Sunday, November 30, 2008

Fire is the Enemy

Fire is the enemy.
Fire doesn’t care that you’re just a volunteer.
Fire doesn’t care that you’re a member of a small town fire company.
Fire doesn’t care how long you’ve been a member of that company.
Fire doesn’t care that you don’t get many serious fires.
Fire doesn’t care that you have more important things to do than train.
Fire doesn’t care about your family or what they’ll do without you.
Fire doesn’t care about your hopes and dreams and plans.
Fire doesn’t care about you at all.
Fire only cares about what it needs, about what it wants.

Fire is the enemy.
Fire feels no empathy.
Fire has no compassion.
Fire shows no mercy.
Underestimate this enemy and it will kill you.

Fire is the enemy.
Fire may attack a home or a school, an office, or factory or hospital.
It will use that structure to create an ambush for you,
using innocent lives as bait.
Everything in it is a trap.

Fire is the enemy.
Fire is a living thing.
It breathes. It consumes.
And it wants to survive.
It will never act against its own survival.

Fire is the enemy.
Fire is stronger than you are.
Fire knows no fear.
But Fire can be defeated
If you have enough of two things: Water and Discipline.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

JFK Blown Away, What More Do I Have to Say?

It's a good bet that you remember where you were and what you were doing on November 22, 1963, if you were at least three years old and not in a vegetative state. That was the day John Fitzgerald Kennedy, President of the United States, was murdered.

Me, I remember.

My impressions of that day are probably a little different from most people's.
It was a Friday. I was 12 years old and at school when word came that classes were cancelled for the rest of the day because someone had shot the President. For a heartbeat, I was swept with elation – no math class today, and I hated math.
Then it sunk in.

By the time I got to the bar, where I knew my old man would be, the regulars had already assembled. No business as usual today. All bets were off. The watering hole was the logical place to gather. These guys were, like my dad, working class stiffs. Construction guys. Truck drivers. Carpenters. Plumbers. Regular guys. Most of them were WWII or Korean War veterans.

There was Big Johnny, the owner and bartender, naturally. Little Johnny, his eldest son, on leave from the Army. Big Johnny had a guilt-thing going on because he hadn’t served in the Big War with the rest of the boys. 4F, I heard. He certainly was a soft, tubby little man. Parted his thinning locks up the middle, like an old-time, wild-west bar-keep. To make up for missing the party, Big Johnny offered up his eldest son, identifiable as his offspring by the identical bulbous nose. Little Johnny was a sergeant and an M.P. stationed in Berlin.
The German one.

Randy Ross, a local cop, was there, too. At one time had been a notable “tough cop” with the Chicago P.D. rubber-hose brigade. Don’t know why he left the city to take up small-town policing. Ross had caught a bullet in the head making a routine traffic stop out on route 12 one lonely night, and hadn’t been quite right since. Some say it improved his manner considerably. He was still a cop, but “temporarily” assigned to the school cross-walks while the days ticked away until his retirement. He liked us kids to call him “Officer Randy.” We got along well with him because he seemed to be doing his thinking on a child-like level these days. No sense of subtlety or guile.
If you said, sarcastically, “Real good move, Officer Randy,” he’d blush a little and say “Gee, thanks.” Couldn’t understand the sarcasm, see?
He also sometimes got words confused. Once he mentioned that he was going to an optimist to get some reading glasses. That brought out some general mirth. “Don’t laugh,” Randy said. “You might need glasses yourself someday.”

Chuck, of Chuck’s Trucking fame, was there. He was a round, ruddy-complexioned guy with eyes, nose and mouth continually at war for control of his face. The family business included two sons, and a grandson about to graduate high school. They worked together, drank together, stuck together. I wondered what that was like.

Also on hand was Nora, who got both blonde hair and an inflated sense of
desirability from out of a bottle. She drank Jack Daniels, measured in fists, not fingers, chain-smoked camels and had the baritone voice to prove it. She would laugh at a dirty joke as easily as anyone else, and could generally top it with a dirtier one. I guess I always thought of her as “one of the guys.”

Stanley was another regular. An accountant of some kind. On the oily side, a smidge too polite, committed to a losing battle to look dapper. Combed his remaining strands of hair from just above his left ear, across the top of his head to the right ear, held it in place with a pound of brilliantine and some nails. He tried to have a dashing mustache, but he clipped it too short, making it look like a coal miner’s runny nose. Stanley was a “confirmed bachelor,” as gay men were called back then. He was mostly quiet.

Then there was my dad.
Everybody said hello to him when he sauntered in with me in tow. They were sometimes a little too cheerful, I thought. A little bit too “hail and well met” with smiles that looked like they were pumped up. It was the way you might say, “gooood boooy” to a dog you were afraid might bite you.
I guess they all knew my dad was nuts.

I perched on a stool next to him and sipped a coke from the bottle, as the men watched, in stoney silence, the live news reports of Kennedy’s death. Wasn’t the first time they’d seen it. They watched it over and over, as if hoping that a subsequent report would refute the earlier reports of the President’s demise.
Walter Cronkite went over the known details once more, top to bottom, no new news and then went to a station break. Hardly anyone stirred. What was there to say?

“Oh-oh,” said Officer Randy. “Somebody fucked up.” Spoken with the expression and tone of a man whose keen olfactory wit had detected a rude and silent fart.

“More like everybody fucked up,” coughed Nora. “Who was guarding him, the fucking Cub Scouts?” It was rhetorical.

“No….Secret service, I think,” said Randy.

“Well, all I know is, Oswald is one hell of a marksman,” said Sergeant Little Johnny. “They’re saying he hit a moving target with that shitty Manlicher-Carcanno from 6 floors up. What’d they say, two hits out of three shots in, six, seven seconds? Not sure I could do it?” Little Johnny held the highest award the Army gave out for marksmanship.

Several heads nodded sagely.

“You guys remember when the mob got Vincelli in that barbershop?” Chuck asked no one in particular. “Where was his bodyguard? Out taking a piss or something, am I right? It was a double-cross. The body-guard was the inside man, am I right? And this guy Oswalt. It’s like right away they knew it was him. How? How come the cops made him for it so fast? And found him so fast?”

“Yeah,” said Randy Ross. “Jeese, those Dallas cops must be REALLY good, huh?”

Chuck went on. “If he was some kind of lone nut fanatic, wouldn’t he be proud? Take the credit? Am I right? He says he’s just a patsy.”

“Or maybe Oswalt is a dead herring,” intoned Randy as if channelling Sherlock Holmes. “Maybe they just want the real killers to think they got away with a frame up so they’ll get careless and then, pow!”

The group stared at Randy as if he’d started to sing Ave Maria in Mandarin Chinese.
But a couple days later, Randy began to seem as much savant as idiot.
Because a couple days later, the Dallas cops were transporting the suspect, Lee Harvey Oswald, and in waltzes mafia underling Jack Ruby, like he owns the place, and shoots Oswald dead, right in front of the cops, the TV cameras, God and everybody in Big Johnny’s bar.

It produced a moment of stunned silence from the collection of usual suspects gathered thereat.

“What the fuck?” said Chuck.

“What the fuck?” echoed the sons of Chuck like a Greek chorus.

“This is bullshit,” Said Sergeant Little Johnny. “BullSHIT!”

“Bullshit,” agreed the others, desperately looking to each other for a reasonable explanation.

“Oh-oh,” said Randy. “Somebody fucked up.”

My dad stared grimly into his beer.
“Mother-fuckers,” he said simply, as if reminding the group of the operant natural law which governed all such phenomena, the way “gravity,” would suffice to explain a man’s fall from a great height.

The Kennedy Murder – these guys never called it “assassination” – would be the leading topic of conversation for many days to come, if, indeed, mumbling, grumbling, head-shaking and muttered profanities can be considered conversation.
When the Warren Commision report came out the following year, the verdict was that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, shot JFK .
And Oswald was dead.
So, like, case closed, daddy-o.

The regulars at the bar didn’t buy the Warren Report.

For one thing, a lot of these guys, like my dad, were combat veterans, and Arlen Specter’s ridiculous fairy tale about a zig-zagging “magic bullet” held as much water as a leaky thimble. For another, as Sergeant Little Johnny so immediately pointed out, it was an impressive feat of marksmanship that Oswald had carried off. (A feat that, to this day, has not been replicated by any of the numerous expert shooters who have tried it. And Oswald himself, it turns out from his Marine Corps records, was only a mediocre shot at best.)

There’s an old African proverb that says, “Even a jackal will insult a dead lion,” which, in this case, roughly translates as, “Blame the dead guy.”
Oswald never made it to trial, never got his day in court. We never got to hear the evidence against him or hear his defense.
Some people still think he did the crime.
Of course, some people probably still believe the earth is flat…

Many years later, I happened to assist in an investigation (I was hardly more than a gofer for the detective on the case). A series of rapes had been committed against young women (all of a similar physical description) in a medium-sized mid-western city. The assaults were increasing in brutality -- characteristic of an assailant who would be killing his victims before long.
The local police were on the case.
They picked up a transient (nowadays called "homeless") man whom they liked for the crime. He attempted to escape and was shot dead by the cops. After that, the rapes stopped and everyone was happy that the law had got their Smackwater Jack.
Case closed, daddy-o.

Except that the family of one of the victims thought there was just something fishy about it.

Enter, my boss. He said the case gave him an itchy feeling in the back of his neck. What my mentor found out was that the rapes had not stopped. They were still happening, but they were happening near Phoenix, Arizona. The rapist, as it turned out, was a cousin of one of the local cops. The hapless homeless gentleman was just a patsy. He took the heat for the crime while the cop hustled his cousin out of town.
The homeless man never made it to trial, never got his day in court. We never heard the evidence against him or heard his defense. Some people still think he did the crimes...

Unfortunately, this is not a unique and isolated case. I personally know of two others:
A small town rape-murder suspect allegedly hangs himself in his cell "with his shoelaces." Case closed.

Another murder suspect dies in a hail of police gunfire. Case closed.
Even when it turns out later that the most incriminating evidence against him had been planted on the scene by one of the officers, that case is still closed.

What I learned from those events applies to the JFK murder.
Whenever a suspect, prime or otherwise, gets shot “resisting,” or "escaping," or hangs himself in his cell "by his shoelaces," or dies of "an overdose," or accidentally falls down and hits his head, or has a heart attack or gets struck by fucking lightning before he gets to trial, I, like my mentor, start getting an itchy feeling in the back of my neck.

It’s my bullshit detector going off.

JFK’s murder was a critical moment in our national history.
It proved you could kill the president and get away with it
It set the style for things to come.
Because if you can get away with THAT, then you can get away with ANYthing.
As subsequent and quite recent events clearly demonstrate.

To any mind not impermeable to reason, the evidence is overwhelming that the “official story” of the JFK murder --- like some other “official stories” -- is a scam.

But, hey, maybe you believe that Oswald, acting alone, did the deed.
That's cool.
Just be careful you don’t sail off the edge of the earth.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Horse Dance

When I was a kid, I learned some very valuable survival strategies.
One of them was, “Keep your mouth shut and your eyes and ears open.”
I learned never to reveal my thoughts or feelings until I thought I was pretty sure about what the thoughts and feelings of the “other” were. I learned to absorb every bit of information my opponent revealed while offering no information of my own, unless it was disinformation. I got very good at doing this, testimony to which is the fact that I’m still around.

When I first began spending time with horses, I thus “naturally” wanted to understand them, more than I wanted them to understand me. It was like going to a foreign country, and I needed to learn how to speak the native language, “horse.”
Only an arrogant ass goes abroad and expects everyone THERE to speak ENGLISH.
Yet a lot people seem to start out talking and talking, expecting to be understood, without first bothering to find out what language their audience speaks.

Green as a twig, one of the first things I did to understand my new companions was to try to feel what it was like to be a horse. My horse and I have quite a bit of anatomy in common, more or less, and so it was relatively easy for me to “equi-morph” myself, in my vivid, and admittedly bizarre, imagination, into having a horse body.

I got down on my hands and knees to try it on for size. I worked on the gaits. Felt what it was like to buck or rear, kick, or strike or even jump. The first thing I learned was that I needed to get a pair of knee pads.

After a time, it dawned on me that I didn’t really have to get down on all fours. I could do just as well feeling the gaits upright – plus it was easier on what’s left of my knees.
I noticed that, when I walk. the timing of my stride and arm-swing is really not very much different from the rhythm of the four beats of my partner’s walk, I could easily adjust to eliminate even that difference.
The trot was simple to understand, since I’ve run a lot of miles over the years. Diagonal arm/leg. Same-same.
For the canter I found a shuffling/skipping step matched exactly. On a left lead, my right foot shuffles under on the “rise”; my left foot and right arm work together in the middle; my left arm completes the “fall.” (Interesting to me is that the emphasis is on the last beat, the 3rd beat of the canter. This feels like a waltz to me, the 3rd beat of the canter being the first beat of the 3/4 measure and the 1st beat of the canter being the 3rd beat of the 3/4 measure.)

The few people who saw me doing this were quickly convinced that I was nuts.
And, of course, they were right.

Playing horsie led me to the next thing I tried: dancing with my horse.

Ever dance with anybody?
The dance I happen to like is the tango.
Argentine tango, not that bloodless ballroom thing.
It’s generally the case that one person leads, usually the Gentleman, and one person follows, usually the Lady. In the tango it seems to me that the Lady gets to do all the really flashy moves, while the Gentleman sets things up so she’ll be able to do them easily, effortlessly and, seemingly "naturally."

If the Lady doesn’t look brilliant, it’s largely the Gentleman’s fault.
Each person you dance with is unique – but similar, too.
Different people don’t do the exact same moves the exact same way.
But quite similar in principle.

The Gentleman has to communicate clearly using balance, pressure and release of pressure, so that his partner will intuitively choose to move in a certain way at a certain moment because it FEELS right.

That’s what I tried to do with my horse.
It wasn’t about teaching HIM how to respond to MY movements.
It was about ME figuring out how to ask for something in a way that he would understand.
He gets to do the flashy moves. My job is to set it up.
How could I get him to walk forward? To back up? To stop? Turn away from me, or toward me. How is it different if I’m facing him as opposed to facing the same direction beside him?

One of the things my tango teacher had the gentlemen do was to dance the lady’s part.
Understand what it is you’re asking your partner to do by doing it yourself.
Learn the best way to ask for a move, by learning what it’s like to be asked.
Sometime try it.
YOU be the horse. Without touching, follow a partner’s moves on the ground, mirroring their movements. This requires a relaxed alertness which is akin, I suspect, to the horse’s normal state of mind.

This is also pretty much what I do when I’m on my partner’s back. I feel his hind legs as if they were my own, and do with my legs and balance and etc, whatever I would do to walk or trot or canter, just as if I were using his legs to do it. If I do a good job, stay relaxed and “in touch” with my pony’s body, I always know exactly which foot is doing what. Really, you almost can’t help it.

I have no idea if this is the “right” thing to do.
But it seems to work for us quite well.

Very recently, I met another charming fellow by the name of Cisco, who seems to see virtues in me I’m not aware of, because he has rather adopted me as his own, greeting me in nearly the same way as my own long-time best friend does when I arrive at the barn.
I’ve done the Follow Me Dance with Cisco several times, now.
He did it so well almost immediately, that I suspect ONE of us must be brilliant.

And I believe I know which one.


Saturday, November 8, 2008

Give Petes a Chance

I’m in the studio working on this tune, see?
A sensual, romantic ballad.
It’s all finished except for a nice guitar part to compliment the melody and the mood.
The song calls for something understated, vaguely melancholy of classical-Spanish heritage. Acoustic. Nylon strings..
Know what I mean?

I’m down to my last hundred bucks, but it’ll be worth it to weave the last subtle, but critical, thread into the sonic tapestry.
I just have to be sure I get the right player, a player who can hear what I need to hear, so people will feel what I need them to feel -- and who has the chops to do it with tasteful and modest, seamless effortlessness.

I’m in luck.
There are a bout 3.7 zillion good guitar players around.
But, wow. How am I going to choose the right player from among all those?
What would you advise me to do?

Should I pick one at random and hope for the best?
Should I choose the player who’s the youngest? The oldest? The best-looking?
Should I pick a player who’s gay? Straight?
Should I hire the player who owns the most guitars? Or the most expensive guitar?
Should I go with the guy who’s a friend of a friend? Or the teenager who’s the child of a long-ago paramour?
Should I give the gig to the chick who’s been flirting both with me and the guitar for about 3 months?
Should I select the player with the degree from the most prestigious school?

Help me out. What do you suggest?

How about if I listen to some tracks the candidates have laid down in the past?
See who’s done or IS doing music similar to what I’m looking for? Maybe go hear them live, if they’re gigging out?
Do you think that sounds like the way to go?

Or maybe I should pick Pete, the kid who’s been playing head-pounding, voice hoarsening grunge/metal/rock?
I know, when left to his own devices in the past, he’s never played anything like what I’m looking for. But he’s charismatic as hell (to some people, anyway). And maybe he’s just been, laying back, biding his time, PRETENDING to dig what he’s been playing while all the while he’s actually just been aching for a chance to do Bach.
Maybe he could play my tune.
Maybe, even if it’s NOT the music he hears in his soul, I could “push” him or “pressure” him into it and he could fake it just fine.
Should give him a chance?
Or should I go with the guy who’s been playing my kind of music for a long time and playing it damn well?
Help me out.
What do you think?

I’m talking about Obama, all right.
Or, more specifically about his firey-eyed, self-described “liberal” or “progressive” followers who are clamoring for critics to “give him a chance.”
I say, “He HAD his chance.; he showed you his chops in the Senate.”
Listen to what he’s played in the past. THAT’S what he played because that’s what he hears in his heart. You can’t push, pressure or force him to hear something else.

Maybe next time you ought to go with the player who already digs your music.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Only Time Will Tell

A lot of good and decent people are celebrating this morning, full of hope, full of optimism.
I wish I could join them.
I can’t.
Not yet...

I’m troubled by an inability of the Obama celebrants to offer specifics of just exactly WHY Mr. Obama has their adulation. Close inspection of Mr. Obama’s position on major issues clearly demonstrates that he and Mr. McCain were in substantial agreement: both want to occupy Iraq, more or less indefinitely, both want to increase the military budget and enlarge the military, and both want to escalate the war against Afghanistan, too.
Both gentlemen voted to continue funding the war, for the 700 billion dollar bailout, and to let telecommunications companies off the hook for spying on us. Neither man favors the single-payer national healthcare system. Neither would disavow the possibility of using nuclear weapons. Both are sword-rattlers when it comes to the so-called “war on terror,” with “terrorists” having replaced “communists” as the Official Bogey-man of the new & more hip generation.

I remember the celebratory mood of one of my young students (voting for the first time in 2006) when the Dem’s slid into a majority on the promise of “accountability.”
Having been on this unmerry-go-round a few times, I advised her to wait until we see what they actually DO. Before the dust of campaign promises had settled, impeachment of history’s Impeachment Poster-boy President was “off the table,” and the administration continued to run amok, not only unchallenged, but with the continued complicity of the laughable “opposition” party.
Wasn’t exactly a big shock for me, but it was for her, and I’ll forever hate those bastards for the eviscerated look in her eyes when she found out there was no Santa Claus.

Some folks are celebrating the election of the nation’s first black president as a turning point – and a good one – in our history.
Maybe that’s true.
I hope it is.
I confess that, in and of itself, this is the part I love. Waited a long time for it and it means a great deal to me personally. White people voting for a black guy for president. LOTS of white people. What’s not to like?

It certainly seems that Mr. Obama, of mixed racial heritage, is plenty black enough to be considered all black by those on the farthest right-hand fringe, the died-in-the-sheet bigots for whom only the purest, whitest white is white enough.
But at the same time, it seems to me that there’s black and there’s Black.

Mr. Obama isn’t exactly a wild-eyed radical. He’s not a Frederick Douglas, or a Dr. King, or a Muhammad Ali or a Malcolm X --- all very stand-up guys I would have voted for, by the way. Mr. Obama isn’t a black guy who fought his way out of the Chicago slums against all odds, overcoming a broken family, lousy schools, drugs, gangs, police brutality and general despair, with nothing but his own strength of character to keep him from going under. He’s a black guy raised by white grandparents in Hawaii who went to a private school and then to Harvard.
Good for him. I don’t begrudge him that. But it isn’t exactly representative of the experience of the typical African-American, is it?

Maybe I’m just sore about black guys I knew growing up.
Seems like none of them ever caught a single break and a lot of them didn’t make it.
(Or maybe this reminds me of the way the Great White Father always scrapes up some clown with just a tiny bit of “Indian Blood” to anoint as the recognized “chief” or “spokesman” for the tribe so this “representative” can sell off Indian Land Rights cheap to the Great White Father’s Friends. Chief Big Apple.)

And maybe Mr. Obama’s the best we can do right now. Maybe we have to ease into the hot water of this racial-equality thing one toe at a time. (Hell, it’s only BEEN a couple hundred years, be PATIENT!)

Self-described “progressives” claim that they are aware of Mr. Obama’s short-comings, but believe he is susceptible to changing if they “hold his feet to the fire.”
Maybe that’ll work.
It sure worked with Dubya, didn’t it?
Or didn’t anybody DO that?
Why not?
Why not, when we needed it most? If we didn't hold a known "bad" guy's feet to the fire to keep him in line, are we more likely hold a perceived "good" guy's feet to the fire, when we feel the imminent threat is actually LESS?
Somehow, I'm skeptical.

What I suspect, given my tragic character flaw of preferring evidence over emotion, is that Mr. McCain, and his ridiculous cartoon running mate, were decoys.
Straw opponents.
Patsy and vice-patsy.
Sacrificed pawns.
Nothing more.

I offer the following for your consideration:
1. If you can get people to respond emotionally to something first, it is unlikely that facts will change their minds later.
2. If people feel that they have participated in the process, they’ll tend to go along with the out-come because they “own” it.

With the disturbing similarity of their platforms, I cannot but wonder whether this is just a simple scam to get people to ACCEPT policies from Mr. Obama that they mightn’t have tolerated as easily, if at all, from Mr. McCain.

Maybe I’m wrong.
I’d be delighted if I were.
I would love it if Mr. Obama turned out to embody the best of his supporters’ hopes and dreams.

Only time will tell.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Tao of Spartacus Jones: Fine Cuisine

This piece is on my website. I'm putting it here to dedicate to Gayle, who just had a birthday.


Fine Cuisine

Seems a lot of men have a fascination for nubile young girls. It's almost the standard of the industry, so to speak, everything else being a second choice.

Now, this is just my personal opinion, from my own personal experience and I mean no disrespect. It's not like have anything against young girls.
But — with a few really brilliant exceptions — having sex with a young person is a lot like eating a bowl of Pablum.
The packaging is very pleasing to the eye, well-designed, colorful, nice logo.

And Pablum will keep you from starving to death. But there isn't much flavor to it. Certainly not the kind of flavor that will linger in your memory, haunt your taste buds ever after with a relentless craving.
When a woman gets to be in her 30's, 40's and 50's, she starts getting real interesting.
She knows what she wants, knows how to get it, and isn't one bit shy about going after it.
I like that.
Having sex with a mature woman is like having a good bowl of chili. So many seasonings and spices and textures, every mouthful is a new delight. Even when you've stuffed yourself, you still want more, just to have that taste in your mouth awhile longer.
I think the best thing about a girl who's 18 or 20, is that someday she'll be 40.