Sunday, July 31, 2005

Animating Poetry

click the image

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Novena to Our Lady of MasterCard

I thought my relationship with MasterCard ran deeper than the meagre considerations of "money." MasterCard, have your thirty pieces of silver, I don't care! But you lead me on, sending mail addressing me as "Dear Valued Customer." My parents and wife don't even address me in so intimate a manner. But you do, and I enjoyed it -- while it lasted.

Now your robotic voice calls me daily. A robot with a British accent, no less. How can a robot have a British accent? It's so strange. Doubtless the product of credit card Psy-ops programs and experimentation. Maybe one day I'll answer the phone to the sort of Tibetan chanting that U.S. marines used to goad Manuel Noriega out of the Vatican embassy in Panama City in the early 1990s. It seems anything is possible.

One afternoon, a week ago, an actual person called me on behalf of MasterCard. However, they asked for "Minatar Starmand." I'm a bastard about this -- if people telephoning me can't get my name right, I tell they have the wrong number. While toying with them, of course.

"Ah, no," I said, "no Edgar Bergen here, sorry."

The befuddled human voice that was strangely without accent, said, "No, I'm looking for a Mr. Eknid Rainermond."

"No, sorry," I said, "no Ed Comartin here."

"I'm not --" the real voice said. "May I please speak to Artineau Stainamond?"

"No, sorry," I said, "no Remark Automaton here. Have a nice day." And I slammed the fucking phone down.

MasterCard, it's like you don't even know me!

If I'm not mistaken, MasterCard, your name was once MasterCharge. I was only a child, but I recall that. I have the feeling that you changed your name in order not to remind "valued customers" what they were doing with your card -- charging.

And charging is such an apt word, adjective, description for what "valued customers" are doing with their credit cards. We're charging and charging with them. Charging up a storm. As the recipient of numerous monthly mailings from MasterCard, I took my role as "valued customer" very seriously, using my MasterCard to hone and shape my financial situation to best suit my desire to remain alive.

But what are we "charging" toward? Bankruptcy? Probably. But I think of the word "charging" in its imperical sense -- that I'm charging my own financial electric chair with my MasterCard. Charging and charging and charging. Charging with abandon, but not without thought or reflection or purpose.

However, charging, nonetheless.

And MasterCard, with its robotic British telephone calls is lusting after the day, the hour, the moment, when I will be forced to sit in the credit-charged electric chair, and it will throw the switch.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Warning Labels on Credit Cards

In Canada, packages of cigarettes have disgusting images on them depicting the health hazards related to smoking, in an effort to alert people to the risks they are taking when they light up.

I think credit cards should come with the same kinds of graphic warnings.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

"Gentlemen! You can't fight in here! This is the War Room!"

WESTERN DARFUR, Sudan (CNN) -- Sudan's foreign minister has apologized to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice after authorities roughed up journalists and staff members traveling with her.

Condoleezza Rice: "They have no right to push and shove."

I, like Ms. Rice, abhor violence.

Here, here!

No one has the right to push and shove!

[much wrapping of knuckles on parliamentary desks]

No one, goddamn it!

Reasons to Celebrate July 22

  • July 22nd is my birthday.

  • My story Hadley was published by the distinguished online journal, FRiGG Magazine.

  • My story Beast Regards (a follow-up to my Xavier Lipshitz/William Zuma saga) will soon be published in Opium Magazine's inaugural print edition.

  • My story Continental Divide is coming out in the print edition of Hobart Pulp's Travel Issue next week.

  • And Penguin Canada continues to mull over two of my novels.

Explosions in FreelanceVille: "They Take a Shit on Your Head and Want You To Say 'Thanks!' For the Hat"

You know how it is: you go to the grocery store, the car dealership, the home electronics store, you browse, you pick out a pile of stuff that you want -- then you go up to the cashier, have all of your merchandise rung through, tallied and totaled. And when the person behind the counter gives you the total with an expectant look, silently indicating that it's your turn to get busy -- digging out your cash or credit card -- you say to that person, "I want all of this, but I can't afford it."

What would happen if you tried this in the "real" world?

(a) The cashier would laugh, and let you walk out with all of the stuff;
(b) The cashier would frown, chide you, then allow you to walk out with all of the stuff;
(c) The cashier would tell you to go fuck yourself, and chase you out of the store hurling epithets about how you wasted his/her time and looked like a complete jackass while doing so;
(d) You would not be allowed to take the merchandise until you paid.

Well, in my world "d" would be the correct answer, though "c" would be the most satisfying one to witness. However, in the world of some people for whom I do freelance work, "a" is the logical answer.

You see, I'm just a writer. What I do is equivalent to an adult filling in coloring books. So believe some of the people for whom I do freelance work. And if the whim strikes them, they can pay when they say they'll pay me, or wait a week, or several weeks. Or, they can get creative and change the rate they're going to pay me. I've even encountered a guy so slick and savvy, he didn't pay me at all.

The latest folly occurred with the savvy, sophisticated twenty-one year old guy (whom I don't even think shaves yet) who runs Wallpaper magazine. Sorry, I mean Image magazine. I get those confused -- because he gets the two confused.

In a nutshell, the guy went on a figurative shopping spree (as described above) with my writing, and now decides to pay me later than we agreed. Ah, before you condemn this doe-eyed, misguided person, you must understand: He Encountered Obstacles Along the Way. Imagine that. You see, this savvy and pretentious person deals only in "best case scenarios." I don't know about your life, but seldom do I feel the need to actually plan for a "best case scenario" to play out. I'm usually managing varying levels of disasters, dismemberment and loss of life.

But this young and shiny young man, who is oh-so-passionate about his magazine -- and naturally assumes that everyone around him is equally swept up by his vision -- wants me to lower my rate, and has decided to use one of the articles I wrote for this issue for a later one; thus paying me at a later time.

All high-class problems, I guess. There is world hunger, more explosions in London, England today. There is George W. Bush.

But in my sphere, a warm, electrolyte-ridden log was looped onto my head, and the perpetrator, afterward, expressed consternation and dismay and hurt feelings when I didn't offer a hearty "Thanks!"

Thanks for nothing, nitwit.

From January of this year

It’s not a record, but it’s close. Within 12 hours of submitting my first article to Windsor Body magazine, the bottom fell out of that gig entirely.

My general modus operandi in life is to pre-empt, and thus avoid, foreseeable trouble. You know, wearing my seatbelt while driving my car in case of a traffic accident, locking my front door so people don’t walk into my house and steal my possessions. We all do this to a certain extent.

So, when I was first called and asked to be a writer/editor for WB, I immediately e-mailed my rates and full contact information to the publisher. Days later when I met him in person, the publisher said nothing about my rates. By the "read receipts" on my e-mail program, I knew he had received and read the e-mail.

Last Friday evening the publisher called me with a rush-job. He had notes from a local doctor and needed me to make an actual article out of the notes—due in two days. I said no problem.

I wrote the article, having to do a fair bit of Web research to fill in some gaping holes left by the doctor who was obviously not used to communicating to persons with no medical background. I submitted a first draft so the doctor could tell if I was using the medical terms correctly.

The publisher called me Monday morning, aghast by the invoice I enclosed with my submission e-mail. I was aghast at his being aghast. He proceeded to tell me that he couldn’t afford me as a writer. How surreal. He already knew my rates, and could have said something like this before I’d begun that article. His only solution to the situation was for me to simply work for less money. This from a guy who a week before had been telling me how he’s building an entirely new building to house his offices. His plea of poverty rang false.

For my own part, I didn’t give an inch. I said that writing is real work, though it’s often underestimated. However, the Internet, fax machines, print media would be obsolete without people writing copy. I also pointed out the obvious—I had been upfront about my fee from the get-go. Why hadn’t he spoken to me sooner?

Well, he said he had trouble e-mailing me. How interesting. He had spoken to me on the telephone the evening he asked me to write that first article. That was a perfect opportunity to ask/discuss my rate. He didn’t ask. I’m always willing to negotiate—before a project commences. Well, he thought it better to negotiate after work began. That might work in his favor, but not in mine. I told him I didn’t find his conduct professional or acceptable. I wasn’t at all satisfied with his griping about my fee after I had done work for him. So, I dropped the gig.

He refuses to pay for me for any of the work I did on that article.

Hearing the pleas of the WB publisher, "But I can’t afford to pay what you’re asking! I can’t afford it!" painted in my mind an image of some withered loser in an electronics shop standing before the large screen TVs, gripping his crotch, whining to a sales guy, "But I can’t afford it, I can’t afford." Well, you don’t shop for what you can’t afford. You can’t buy a Hummer if you can only afford a Cavalier.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been burned in the freelance game. Seems no matter how I try to guard against these unpleasant, predictable, fixable, avoidable scenarios, I just can’t make them sufficiently "idiot proof." One always slips through, and tars and feathers himself with his nickel-and-diming dance.

That evening, I sent my formal resignation to the publisher:
You heartily offended and insulted me today in our telephone conversation. You question my professionalism when it is you who doesn’t even have a handle on his e-mail Inbox (I sent you my contact details on Oct 25 at 1:55 p.m.), much less possess the wherewithal to speak to me about any questions you had about my fees. You call me at the last minute to write an article, and only after I’ve completed the task do you call me up aghast by what I’m charging. You, sir, are utterly remiss and disorganized.

I request that you not contact me again. We are through, formal and final. I make this request because I do remember writing copy for that Sherrill woman at the day spa in Essex in June 2002. That was the lousiest $200 I ever earned.

What I enjoy about business guys like you is that you have very short memories. Your promises today about all "the work" I’m turning away were entirely hollow because you made the very same promises to me almost three years ago. Nothing ever materialized from your promises. I don’t expect any would materialize this time around. And I can’t pay my mortgage with promises.

It’s interesting that you have the funds to build a new building to house your offices, yet you do not to have the funds to pay a proper rate to a proper writer. You know damn well you can’t afford a topflight writer/editor, yet you seek one out. Well, this is the result.

We have no agreement for an article about the fitness competition this past weekend. My notes are my personal property. Maybe one of your interns can transcribe Steve P’s experience onto paper.

Cutting things off with you is not killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. It’s shooing away the goose that just shit on my car seat.
To which he replied:
So much for you being a Hummer!?!?? The Doctor thinks the article is boring with spelling mistakes. I think a Cavalier would have done a better job! I refuse to pay for a product that is incomplete!

By the way you might want to make changes to your website people have notified me of spelling and grammatical errors.
Wow, didn’t see that coming! Ever sit near some jerk in a restaurant who begins complaining on cue about his meal so he won’t have to pay for it? This situation has the same feel about it.

Yeah, there are people out there who will steal the glass eye out of your head. Flannery O’Connor must have known a guy like this when she wrote about the Bible salesman running off with that poor girl’s prosthetic leg. But I will live to write another day.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Baby Boomers & Yuppies Rejoice!

The scientific arm of investment group Generating Revenue Every Every Day (G.R.E.E.D.) has innovated a method by which persons may take their possessions and wealth with them after death. The technical term for this process is Variable Effluvium Nilhistic Approbium Linearality Bassline Tenuation Alignment Refracted Disposition, more commonly known as V.E.N.A.L.Bas.T.A.R.D.

By this method, the candidate's DNA is literally sewn into objects, which are then run through the Nilhistic Approbium, and after a lot of psuedo-scientific-religious-and-time/space hocus pocus, the candidate awakes (upon his/her death) in a place not unlike an automobile showroom, surrounded by all of their prized possessions. The big brains at G.R.E.E.D. Labs rigged camera, infrared, and satellite communications equipment into the first twenty test subjects, and have photographic and audio proof of this breakthrough. Don't believe us? Check out the image of the ecstatic test subjects accompanying this article.

Applicants must have a net worth of at least $250 million dollars, signatures from fifteen attorneys licensed to practice law in the Turks and Caicos Islands, and adhere to every item in the following "Notice":

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Monday, July 11, 2005

Note From John Ashcroft to Tony Blair in a time of Significance, Latitude and Prayerful Preparedness

FROM: John (Ezekiel) Ashcroft
TO: Tony (Excalibur) Blair
TIME: 17:38:22 GMT
LOCALE: "Northwoods" Missile Silo Bungalo


In light of recent events I thought to send you this note with all the things I learned in Washington about running an effective war on an "ism" (no, don't wake the Minister of Metaphysics to explain this, just keep reading!).

You see, terrorism often causes people to "take their eye off the ball" (quaint American sports analogy; don't go running for your Minister of Culture & Protocol to explain). This note is to help you keep your eye on the "target".

First things first, you must remember: Bombs don't kill people, civil liberties kill people. As long as you have people walking around, free, lives are going to be lost. Sure, I believe that when people die, they go on to Glory (leave the Archbishop of Canterbury alone; Heaven! I mean Heaven!), but it's the role of the State to keep people on earth and out of Heaven for as long as possible. Says so in my favorite book of the Old Testament, The Book of Hegemony, 23:12 (leave the Librarian General alone and look this up for yourself! Be self-sufficient, goddamnit-- I mean, God bless you).

Second, remember the three by-words of fighting tyranny:
  • Surveillance
  • Jesus Christ
  • Mistrust
I have never traveled to your lovely country (Britannica is a regular, full-fledged country, isn't it? You have your own money and prisons? I remember reading somewhere that you were still under the rule of the Encyclopedia empire, no?), but I understand you have a bit of a thing about closed circuit television. Good. You got cameras? Get more. Lots more. And listening devices. And those little tracking beacon thingees that go right up peoples' rectums-- Dick Cheney will put you in contact with a very reliable guy who sells these things by the gross.

Third, be consistent in your vigilance when making public statements about the War on Brown People... I mean, the War on Terror. Tell Britannicanians that they could die at any time as a result of terrorism, but be sure to emphasize that it's safe to shop. It's always safe to shop. In fact, it's a religious fact that people killed with shopping bags in their hands enjoy a sort of "express" service to Glor-- Heaven.

Finally, never "take your eye off the ball." What's "the ball"? Freedom, of course. Freedom is a ball to be struck by the bat or golf club of Democremony (show this line to your Poet General, it's some of my best shit-- hosanna); freedom to believe as I do, freedom to fear what I fear, freedom to hate what I hate. Freedom to worship Jesus Christ in a Protestant church.

Gotta go, there's an Equalizer marathon on TV tonight. Before signing off, though, I must highly recommend my new living accommodations. I was skeptical when I first bought this missile silo bungalo from Don Rumsfeld. Felt he was "having fun" with an old country rube like me (don't bother your Minister of Country, just Google the fuckin-- blessed term). But after moving in when I was fired-- reassigned-- moved on with Jesus's plan for my path, I have to say me and the Mrs. are quite enjoying the quiet after the hubbub of Washington. The chemical toilet takes some getting used to, but we offer up these hardships to the Lord who is right now preparing our corner suite in Glory, in the Kingdom of Jesus, in perpituity, with Christ and happiness and crossed swords over the mantle for that time when He deems to enact His exit strategy for us from this world.

Brings a tear to the eye.

Jesus Christ Almight
Ezekiel "Glory" Ashcroft

(These are not the actual words of John Ashcroft, but a satirical work of fiction intended for entertainment purposes only. Any inference, assumption, assignation, or problematicality is purely coincidental and with the greatest of intentions, in perpituity, with all grace and benevolence toward the Reader of the First Part from the Writer in the Second Part, twice removed. Amen.)

C.C (no evil).T.V. in London

(July 14 Addendum: I readily acknowledge that I was wrong in my thought that the London police and other authorities looking into the July 7th attack on London would somehow not come across footage of the bombers from CCTV cameras as they got into position for the attacks:
LONDON, England (CNN) -- Police have appealed for information regarding the movements of the man who blew up a double decker bus in London a week ago, killing 13 of the 53 who died that day in terror bombings.

Detectives released a CCTV image of Hasib Hussain with a rucksack on his back as he made his way through Luton station en route to London where he boarded the number 30 bus, later the scene of a horrific explosion.
It has been my hope since these horrible attacks took place that the persons responsible for the planning and perpetrating of the attacks are caught and brought to justice. So far, the London police appear to be doing a very diligent job, and for this I commend them.)

No city on earth has as many closed circuit television cameras (CCTV) mounted around its populous as England. No city in England is as populous as London. On any given day, at any given time it can be ascertained if there is someone pissing on a door in the most far-flung neighborhood of London. American television airs a show called The World's Worst Drivers, which is merely endless reams of English CCTV footage pasted together. And this show demonstrates to even the dimmest, doodle-eating viewer that London, England is Under Surveillance.

I'm going to make a wager with everyone reading this blog: I bet that for all of the CCTV cameras in London, there will miraculously and mysteriously be no footage of the bombers who perpetrated the heinous attacks on London on July 7th.

I recall when the bombing of the Murrah building in Oklahoma City took place in 1995. In record time, images from a fast food and truck rental establishments' CCTV cameras showed Tim McVeigh before an after the bombing. Strangely, no footage of Tim McVeigh actually getting out of the rental truck, moments before the explosion, were ever aired. They exist. The FBI has them. Investigators and media have shown no squeamishness about showing other snippets of Tim McVeigh as captured on CCTV, so why the clamp down on this footage? This footage would be particularly interesting because eyewitnesses to Tim McVeigh getting out of that rental truck have testified that he was no alone. There was another man who remained in the truck for a few moments, then, too, got out.

Things are already beginning to smell like this in London. Tony Blair claims there was no intelligence to suggest an attack like this was coming. Yet, the Israelis attempted to warn the British about just such an attack. Certainly have the transit bombings in Spain last year every European country was on heightened alert, particularly Britain, which has the second strongest showing of force in Iraq right now. Claims that July 7th's attack was a complete surprise are negligent at best, and baldfaced lies at worst.

Tony Blair vows to hunt down the bombers. To my ears, which admittedly have grown cynical, this sounds as convincing as O.J. Simpson pursuing the "real" killers of his ex-wife.

Here are two of my stories as they appear in a Texas literary journal

After being promised a free contributors' copy of the magazine in which two of my stories were to appear, the publishers notified the contributors that there would be no free copies, and that all copies would cost $25 + $5 shipping. In the legal world, this is called a "bait and switch." And it's against the law. So, I withdrew my stories from the magazine, and even though the publishers said they were going to press the very next day, they complied. I wondered how they were able to do that. Now, I see how.

Here's a link to one of the contraband stories, if you're interested.

Quote of the Day: Stupidity is always worse than malice.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

"[A] healthy dose of the Romance of the Literary Life"

"Any time I see a movie that has more than three extreme close-ups of a gold-tipped fountain pen skritching across a piece of paper -- or any time I read a text that relies heavily on the words ''writings'' or ''scrivenings'' -- I know I'm in for a healthy dose of the Romance of the Literary Life..." so writes Henry Alford in today's New York Times Book page. I'm taking his words entirely out of context, but they so perfectly embodied the unrealistic cliched image of "The Writing Life" that I just had to swipe them.

"The Writing Life" as lived by this writer involves stacks of bills as high as my nostrils, all vying to be paid, and all to be sorely let down. John Steinbeck once wrote a marvelous one-page essay titled "The Danger of Small Things," in which he riffed on the notion of "that which does not kill you, strengthens you." But he wrote about the small annoyances in life that have no chance of killing a person, but whittle down one's sanity and will to live, just the same, like the phone bill, dentist appointments, and so on. These tiny "death-of-a-thousand-cuts" digs don't build us up in any way, but slowly grind away at our foundations. This is the hallmark of The Writing Life.

Far from watching boats on the harbor from my writing turret, quill in my hand, symphony in my mind, and sonnets pouring forth, I'm holed up in my small office, overcrowded with books, papers, and unwashed laundry, seated at my cluttered desk in boxer shorts and bed head and whatever shirt I plucked from the pile as I wandered in at five or six a.m.. I'm a grudging early riser. What does it say about my horrible physical condition that my body aches after lying in bed after four or five hours? Don't worry, I get my eight hours of sleep a day, and more, but in snatches throughout the day and night.

I have been writing for fifteen years and so far three books of mine have been published -- with a fourth, a novel, having been accepted for publication and set for release in late 2005.

Recieving that first acceptance letter, whether from a magazine for one of your stories or poems, or from a small press publisher for one of your books, is like mainlining Plutonium -- but in a good way. It's a kind of nourishment and affirmation that surges through every sinew, like the raw end of a live electrical cable being dropped into a pool of water. Your ideas, the stuff that has kept you up nights, distracted you at work and at home, the stuff that has you rising early to write, staying up late to revise, has connected with another person -- often someone you have never even met.

"So, how much are they paying you?" comes the Philistine's question when the news of the victory is shared.

Usually, there is no pay beyond contributors' copies of the magazine in which your work appears, or a small percentage on the cover price of your book, of which you'll be lucky to sell one hundred copies. Ready yourself for one cliche -- the satisfaction is pay enough. You can't pay your mortgage with satisfaction, nor can you purchase groceries, granola bars, or the entire Yanni CD collection with satisfaction. But that satisfaction fuels to face the work you need to do in order pay for such things.

Am I complaining? Actually, no, though it sounds like I am. I enjoy being a writer. I'm writing this entry as a shot against, and to uncover, all of those psuedo-artists walking around with their berets -- real or figurative -- feigning existence in some rarified, artistic ecstacy. I got my fill, and more, of such poseurs during the writing courses I took in school; those flightly, always-late personages who felt the essence of an artist was absentmindedness. Truth be told, these were simply lost souls looking for something to which to attach themselves. If you're going to be a writer with any level of seriousness, flightiness and absentmindedness won't help you. It's takes discipline and actual physical strength to write a book. After finishing writing a novel a couple of years ago, I had a renewed respect for anyone who could achieve such a feat, whether it be the basest romance novel, most hackneyed sci-fi, or eye-wateringly literary. The effort is similar and rigorous as bricking every wall of your house on the inside (some might say, and as useful), away from where outsiders can see. So, when you come stumbling, exhausted out of your house, and talk about the work you've just performed, anyone who hasn't been inside your house looks at you like your crazy.

No, I'm not complaining about my writing life, but only attempting to paint a realistic picture. This is how it is. I had no more choice in becoming a writer than I had in choosing my eye and hair color, or eventual full-grown height. I guess I felt compelled to do this because of the latest "writer windfall" story in the news -- Elizabeth Kostova and novel The Historian, for which Little, Brown paid $2 million. Good for her. I plan to read the book. As far as writers pulling in this kind of money, my experience has been: finishing writing a book isn't winning the lottery, but being only issued a lottery ticket.

In my experience with actual lottery tickets, they tend to make good bookmarks, as they've been of no other use to me.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

The Colors of Missing

            The Colours of Missing

            Raindrops on the rooftop
            Signal another downpour.
            & the teardrops of this heartshot
            Find me on this far shore.

                 You’re the girl I love
                 & yet am not kissing.
                 The breeze whispers you name
                 Whenever I am listening
                 & this longing I feel,
                 (there’s just no resisting)
                 Has painted me through
                 With the colours of missing.


            Angel’s wings & days in Spring,
            I have seen with my own eyes.
            Mermaid tails & bottles of ale
            Have me waiting on the high tide.

                 You’re the light on the shore
                 Guiding sailors in from fishing.
                 The sum of your smile
                 Is Beauty’s definition.
                 By your kiss on my head
                 I am christened,
                 Painting me through
                 With the colours of missing.


            Hand-carved canoes & letters from you
            Are sailing my heart home.
            The haven of your hair & the stab of your stare
            Have rolled back this lonesome tombstone.

                 You’re the glimmer on the leaves
                 When the morning dew glistens.
                 You’ve thrown open the gates
                 Of my former life’s prison.
                 & never did I think
                 I’d be in this position,
                 Painted through so thoroughly
                 With the colours of missing


                 The pound of the rain & the thunder of your name
                 Rattle my grateful walls....

Beautiful Girl - a fiction, a remembrance

I have never told anyone that I am capable of teleportation: I can move through time and space as easily as moving from room to room in a house. It’s actually quite simple. Easy as stepping through a door. In fact, that’s how it’s done. It’s a matter of thinking the right thought at the right moment while passing through a doorway. Thing is, few people ever give much thought to something as a mundane as a doorway.

I have never told anyone about my ability. Firstly, it just never comes up in conversation. Secondly, it’s a fun secret to keep.

As with any great discovery, I made this one accidentally. One night, coming home from the bar with a hearth-glow beer buzz on me, I stepped through the entrance way to my apartment building. There was no elevator and I lived on the fifth floor. And as I passed through the doorway I thought, “I wish I was already in my bedroom.” A moment later I was standing in my bedroom. And I would have paid that lapse in time little thought—I mean, after a certain number of beers the night fills up with little blank spots and so long as you make it home all right, you’re not much bothered by those blank spots.

I had taken a step toward my bed and then stopped, looking around the bedroom located on Cameron Avenue in Windsor, Ontario. Nothing unusual in that, I had come home many nights with a few beers on me, stumbling around in the dark. Except there was one strange detail—by that night, I had been living in Dublin, Ireland for more than a year.

I had turned round and round in the bedroom, blinking hard, suddenly breathing hard, trying to grab hold of my thoughts that were running through a laundry list of explanations: I was dreaming, hallucinating, mistaken, crazy...

No, actually. I was standing in my old bedroom in my parents’ house, three and-a- half thousand miles from where I had been standing only a moment before.

I flicked on the light and there was no mistake. Shutting the light off again, I had sat on the bed. I reached into my shirt pocket and found the ticket stub from the nightclub I had come from that evening. I could read it in the streetlight glow coming through the window: The Kitchen, Temple Bar, Dublin 2, Ireland... with an 01 Dublin telephone number beneath the address. The handstamped date on the stub was that day’s date.

There’s no sense wasting time describing my shock—it was total and complete.

I eventually moved from the bed, made my way out of the room, stepped past my parents’ room where I heard the slow, rhythmic breathing of them sleeping. I went downstairs to the main floor. I clicked on the TV in the living, quickly lowering the volume. Switched on an all-news channel. After a moment a weather update came on... in the midst of the forecast the announcer stated that day’s date.

After shutting off the TV, I walked toward the kitchen, stunned, sweating, bewildered, my muddled mind crazily puzzling over just how I would explain my sudden appearance at home to my parents in the morning. And passing through the doorway into the kitchen, I had thought, “I’ve got to get back to Dublin.” And when I stepped into the kitchen I was standing in the kitchen of my Dublin apartment.

Never being a quick study or easily convinced of even more rational ideas, I went to bed that night and gave the strange experience not another thought, deciding in classic-movie-cliché, that it had “all been a dream.” What the hell else was I going to think?

Except that it happened again, and again. While stepping through a doorway with a very particular thought the same moment my foot passed over the threshold. I found myself appearing in all sorts of places: my old high school in the middle of a busy afternoon hallway, in empty sports stadiums, at concerts, in the houses of strangers...

Although I cannot put my finger on the exact time and date, there had come a moment when I figured out what was happening. And then began experimenting. Not all of the experiments worked. It was like learning how to drive a manual transmission car—I was so conscious of thinking a particular thought at just the right moment, that I often missed it altogether and passed through the doorway uneventfully. But after a while I got the hang of it.

Crazy thing about making such an extraordinary discovery is that it didn’t change my life at all. Sure, I was shocked and amazed, questioned my sanity every step of the way. But sane I remained. And my life continued its relatively uncomplicated course.

I continued to experiment, going to other countries, getting home quick from the bar or from work. I had learned early on that little happened externally when I teleported. There was no clap of thunder, no puff of smoke. And the people around me were either too wrapped up in their own day or simply unmindful of their surroundings to pay much attention to my comings and goings. Anyhow, no one would ever really believe somebody had simply “disappeared” right in front of them. The human mind’s ability to doubt its own perceptions is probably my single best ally in this regard.

I found it an ironically amusing situation that when it came time for me to go home to Canada to spend Christmas with my family, I had to buy a plane ticket.

I suppose with a lot of planning I could have simply stepped through a doorway here and appeared in Detroit Metro Airport, but I was stopped by the thought, “What if the flight I’m supposed to be on is delayed?” I could rely on peoples’ distracted perceptions only to a certain point. Had I come to meet my parents in the terminal before my plane had arrived... I didn’t want to even begin to try to explain that.

My folks arranged the plane ticket, mailed it to me and home I flew. I don’t mind flying.

And though I was home for only two weeks, having nothing more on my mind than seeing old friends, visiting old haunts, something happened that was as extraordinary as discovering I could teleport myself: I met a girl. Her name was Christina Finley.

A friend of a friend’s wife, Christina was a fourth-year Visual Arts student at the university. She was quiet, reserved, well-spoken. And beautiful beyond any reasonable or outlandish expectation I could ever conjure. I was captivated immediately. And troubled as well: I was leaving in two weeks and that would be that.

But I enjoyed her company while I was there. And New Year’s Eve night found us back at my friends’ apartment. Enough drink had been consumed to preclude anyone driving, and calling a taxi on such a busy night was out of the question. No harm. No one was in any hurry to leave or end the night. But sleep soon claimed my friend and his wife, and Christina and I were left in the living room—her lying under blankets on the folded-down futon, and me sitting in a recliner. After a few moments of nervous debate I had asked if I could join Christina. She had said yes.

So, I lay down with her. Then she wished me good night, rolled over and was soon asleep. Which was fine with me. And as she slept I made sure she was well covered. I had curled up behind her and took the chance of placing my hand on the firm sure curve of her hip. She didn’t stir, and I was glad.

The next morning I drove her home. We said a casual goodbye and that was that. And driving home I suddenly wished I wasn’t leaving for Ireland the next morning. I wished I had more time with Christina. I really liked her. But I had a job and friends and an apartment to return to in Dublin—had a plane ticket that just wouldn’t allow it.

That night as I was packing my things, it began snowing. It snowed all night. In fact, weather forecasters were calling the storm the worst of the decade. I couldn’t believe the amount of snow that had fallen over night. No one was prepared for it—not even Detroit Metro Airport.

And as I listened on TV to the news that all flights in Detroit were cancelled, suddenly realising I wasn’t going back to Ireland that day, my frown of worry and frustration vanished. Because a thought occurred to me: to call Christina.

It was a crazy thought. I mean, being snowed-in bought me a day or two more at home, not the extra weeks I’d wished for the previous morning after dropping her home. But it was enough.

And after a day of pacing around the house, wondering if I should just leave things as they lay, I picked up the telephone and called Christina. She was surprised to hear from me, but glad too.

We went on a date the next night.

And miraculous as my ability to teleport may be, what took place during that date was, in fact, the definition of miraculous: how she and I had meshed; how we laughed and talked like old friends; an unaccountable feeling of recognition and familiarity developing between us. We were both aware of it, speaking about it, laughing together over it, both very glad for it.

When I kissed her later that evening, that went beyond miraculous. This is the point where words really begin to fail me because they cease to keep pace with my actual feelings and memory of that kiss—those many, many kisses. Our time together became very malleable, seeming to pass painfully quickly, but also seeming very long—as though it was actually days—because we were getting to one another so well, so quickly.

The next morning I had to leave. And with the memory of her kisses still fresh on my lips—with the memory of our chat in the car as I drove her home the night before; the memory of every kiss at every stoplight; she and I had fit the emotional content of months of date into one night—I had boarded my plane for Dublin.

I returned to Ireland and missed Christina with that same unaccountable depth that our conversation and kisses had taken on the night of our date. I telephoned her from Dublin that night. We began exchanging e-mail messages. We exchanged more telephone calls. Letters arrived and were sent. And distant as I was from her, as every day passed I got to know her better; my affection for her seemed to grow its own legs and began to run its own unmapped course.

It was as though God had grown her in His garden just for me.

And missing her as terribly as I did, and much as I so often wanted to teleport home to her, I just couldn’t do that. It was too strange. I was at such a loss to explain to myself how it all worked, I feared its strangeness might put an unbreachable wrinkle into my relationship with Christina.

Time passed and I made plans to fly home in April to visit her and my family. We continued with the phone calls, letters and e-mail and our affection for one another continued down its path at a quicker and more exhilarating pace. I remember putting the phone down after one particular call, nearly levitating with happiness and said to the empty room, “I love that girl.” I’d said that three times, in fact. Because it was true.

With April still a month off, our excitement to see one another again mounting feverishly, I called her the other night.

It began as one of our usual absorbing chats, full of laughs and jokes that only existed between the two of us. But near the end of the conversation her voice grew serious.

She had something to tell me. I said she could tell me anything.

She told me she was part of a project that involved herself, and other female and male students, making plaster casts of their faces, hands, breasts and feet. I don't know how the old pang of jealousy found me, or exactly what fueled its spike through my chest, but it was there, and quickly coiled around my neck, and around my reason. Which was plainly stupid because the students in her art program were well used to working with nude models; often incorporating nude images of themselves into works, posing for one another when the need arose. All quite harmless, all in the context of art and blandly non-sexual.

And though I understood all of that, hearing such news ignited in me a sudden, stinging vintage of shock that surged up from my feet, collecting on its way up every fear and trepidation and bad memory I never knew I had in me. Assembling in me an equation as simple and straightforward as A + B + C = Oh shit!

Christina was surprised by my response, asked if I was okay, was suddenly worried I was turning the news into something it wasn't.

And for as reasonable as I am, for as much as I trusted Christina, for as much as I was interested in her art—for all the distance our mutual affection had bridged, for as powerful as it had grown—I gave into my shock, felt my stomach bottom-out, and our conversation quickly turned into an argument.

Had I been able to press PAUSE on the remote control of the moment, I might have better understood my own feelings, grabbed better hold of them and remained much more articulate than I had become. But there was no pausing the moment, no reigning in my shock and the sick-feeling in my stomach that turned into a mushroom cloud.

The phone call ended badly. I put the receiver down and felt like I had been shot in the chest at close range with a shotgun—as much for imagining her topless in front of another guy as for how badly I had upset her with my reaction.

The next morning when I would have normally wrote her an e-mail message, I simply left for work. That evening when I would have sent her another message, I had lay down on my bed for a fitful, unrestful nap. That evening when we would have gotten on the computer chat-line for a while, I had gone for a long walk; preferring to pound the pavement around St. Stephen’s Green than to purposefully step through any doorway—my secret likely wouldn’t have worked anyhow, my thoughts were so scattered and unfocused. Then I came home and went to bed without turning the computer on at all.

My greatest single failing is my stubbornness. I went on like that for nearly a week. I had told myself I was merely trying to gain hold of my thoughts, emotions, but really all I was doing was abusing her with silence. Striking back by not striking at all.

* * *
... I’m nearly out of breath with my story...

A week has passed and that horrible stinging shock has ebbed. My mind has slowed and I can think once more.

And I now stand in Christina’s backyard.

I stepped through my bedroom door in Dublin at six o’clock this morning and stepped into the garage next to her house. It is now one a.m. and the house is dark.

Christina’s room is around the back of the house. There are stairs leading to a deck beneath her window. The night is cool and pleasant and Christina sleeps with her window open.

I mount the stairs and slowly make my way up them. It’s a precarious climb through her window and into her bedroom because her bed is just below the window... but she sleeps soundly.

I step to the floor beside the bed, pleased that I haven’t made a sound.

And there she lies in her large bed, still as a stone in God’s rock garden. She is more beautiful than I remember; placid as a mermaid upon her lotus flower. Yes.

I bend down and untie my shoes; place them next to her nightstand. I turn to the bed. Christina is sleeping on her side, facing the wall; her long hair spilled across the pillow like a cloud in the night sky.

I slowly pull back the blankets. She doesn’t stir. I climb in next to her with the precise careful movements of a safecracker. I can hear her slow, even breathing.

Pulling the blankets and duvet overtop of me, I curl up behind her—place my hand on the sure firm curve of her hip. Yes.

And the sigh welling in me wants to become a sob. I am ridiculous. I catch hold of myself and breathe in the scent of her skin, the clean cotton scent of the bed.

And she doesn’t stir.

I will watch her sleep a while longer, as I had New Year’s Eve night in my friends’ apartment. And when finally I wake her, I will wake her gently. She will be startled, certainly. Very likely more than simply startled. But I have come to know and admire in her such intellectual and emotional elasticity: such an overwhelming willingness to accept the magic a night brings.

And once her shock and surprise and startlement pass—and they will pass—I will whisper three words to her: “I am sorry.”


After that I will share with her my secret. Then I will kiss her and whisper something else. Three other words... which are the beginning of true magic.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

London Attack - I Don't Believe in Coincidences

My heartfelt sympathies and condolences are with everyone directly and indirectly affected by the heinous attacks on London, England this morning. These bombings were carried out by contemptible, irredeemable, cynical persons. Terrorists, certainly. People seeking to manipulate the attention of society. Persons seeking to redirect focus from one issue to another -- what either might be, God only knows.

Links with info on London bombing

Like everyone else reading about this deplorable event, I'm very curious to learn more about how it was coordinated, and by whom. Very curious.

I'm particularly curious about the presence of former New York City mayor, Rudy Giuliani, in London the morning of the blast. Gosh, that poor man has no luck with metropolitan areas!

I'm curious, too, about the timing of these attacks. They have caused an utter diversion from the G8 summit, and occurred at a time when support for the war in Iraq has waned to its lowest levels.

So, how convenient that London -- capital of the country with the second highest troop levels in Iraq, and highest levels of disapproval for the war -- suffers a coordinated bombing strike, and that these attacks are already being compared to the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. How convenient, too, for Rudy Giuliani to be in London at this very moment; the man who was such a calming, unifying force during those horrible days after the 9/11 attacks.

It couldn't have worked out better had it been scripted.

And I'm wondering aloud if it was.

With the United States having given the American public the equivalent of the Warren Commission II as an answer to the "how"s and "why"s of the 9/11 attacks -- the official F.E.M.A. document on the collapsing of the World Trade Center flatly states that no one knows how or why the building toppled as it did. George W. Bush's attempt to appoint Henry fucking Kissinger to head the 9/11 probe was the height of black comedy and the depths of cynicism. Yeah, nobody uncovers truth like the ole moral microscope, Henry fucking Kissinger. Luckily, Kissinger had too many skeletons rattling around in his closet to have withstood even passing public scrutiny, and thus resigned.

If we could somehow dissipate the distraction of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Patriot Acts I and II, and go back and look at 9/11, and examine what's been uncovered about those attacks, we'd find that not near as much as we thought is actually, concretely known about them.

For instance, no passenger jet struck the Pentagon. The fact that no wreckage, no human remains, and not the least scrap of baggage was found in the Pentagon crash site is proof enough that something other than a passenger plane struck the building. What struck the Pentagon? I have no idea. That's why investigations are conducted -- to learn what happened.

With regard to the attacks on the World Trade Center buildings -- including the proven controlled demolition of Tower 7 -- there has been more maneuvering to quash, influence, limit, and hinder the investigation into how those highjacked air planes were able to travel so far unmolested by Air Force aircraft, how the highjackers found their way to New York without aid from air traffic controllers, and how those steel structured World Trade Center buildings collapsed.
Another disconcerting detail about the London attack that coincides with 9/11 is that the Israeli government/intelligence vigorously warned the U.S. about the coming of the 9/11 attacks, yet the U.S. did not act on that information, choosing the flat-out ignore it and its consequences. The Israeli government occupied office space in the World Trade Center, and broke its lease and vacated the premises a week before the 9/11 attacks. Apparently, the Israeli government similarly warned Britain about the coming of the London bombings, and those warnings were either ignored or fell into incompetent hands.

It's also worth drawing a parallel between the relatively low body counts. Don't get me wrong, the fact that a single person was injured in 9/11 and the London bombings is reprehensible, and personally offensive and horrible to me, but if you look at how vastly populous the areas of attack were, it's quite amazing -- and definitely a blessing -- that the number of dead and injured didn't shoot into the hundreds of thousands. In New York, apparently upwards of 80,000 people worked in the World Trade Center buildings, and the immediate surrounding area. Yet less than 3,000 perished. It's ghastly and evil that anyone was injured or killed, but rather remarkable that ten times that number weren't killed.

As with London. I've read that the population of London, England is 10 million people, which swells to 20 million on a giving workday with everyone commuting into the city. Giving those numbers and the timing and ferocity of these bombings, it's amazing that hundreds, even thousands, of people weren't killed. Once more, it's stomach-turning and heart-sickening that even one person was injured or perished in this attack. I don't seek to turn anyone's suffering or horror into statistics.
The Trade Center buildings coming down as they did had all the hallmarks of controlled demolition. Radio logs recorded firemen inside the Trade Center buildings reporting hearing "bombs" going off within the buildings. Observers outside remarked on the similarity between the tower collapses and controlled demolitions they had seen in person or on TV.

Interesting, too, is how the wreckage of the World Trade Center towers seemed to naturally break into pieces small enough to fit on the trucks that illegally hauled away the wreckage -- Ground Zero was a crime scene, and that wreckage was hauled away and sold as scrap before a single investigator could examine it.

All of which fell out of public view as the drumbeat for war in Afghanistan and Iraq grew louder and louder. The poor rabble can only concentrate on so many events and details at one time.

Now London has been hit by a terrorist attack, days after the Live8 concerts. How easy, then, to create a scenario that the bombers moved under cover of the crowds of concert-goers. Something like this might discourage other such concerts in the future.

Yeah, I'm curious as hell to find out who is behind the attacks on London. We know it was carried out by cynical persons who don't give a shit about human life. We should begin running down lists of known people who fit that description.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Quebec, say hello to your new neighbor

I can't believe I'm going to devote a single sentence to the monster and miscarriage of justice that is Karla Homolka/Teale, but after seeing her post-prison-release interview on RDI, CBC's French-language news network, I won't be able to sleep until I register my outrage at the gall, contempt, and cynicism with which Karla Homolka/Teale manipulated the media today.

The single most indisputable fact about Karla is that she was no innocent victim swept up in the madness of her now ex-husband, murderer Paul Bernardo, during their murder/rape spree in the early 1990s. Karla was every bit as culpable for their heinous deeds as Bernardo. One need only consult the transcript of her infamous sex/torture/snuff video tapes that she made with Paul Bernardo (taken from Nick Pron's, Lethal Marriage [pgs. 488-494]).

Particularly transparent and cynical was Homolka's attempt to appeal to French sensibilities in Quebec, saying that she had such a rough time with the English media with regard to her part in the rape, torture, and murder of teenage girls in Ontario. Quebeckers are so much more forgiving -- or oblivious, or something -- she seemed to be saying. Man, I would have a hard second look at my community if a person with the same moral compass as Vlad the Impaler thought my neighborhood was a good place in which to settle. But she made her best effort toward ingratiating herself to Quebec; we'll see how successful she was in the coming weeks and months, I guess.

Over the past two months, with all the hype leading up to her release, I've been reading about Karla, and one thing has shone through all the opinions and speculation: No one believes Karla to be rehabilitated. Not in the least. She says she's rehabilitated, but she's clearly steeped in denial. This evening, during the RDI interview, Karla actually frowned and asked what the interviewer meant when the interviewer asked if Karla's relationship with her family was at all strained. Karla was utterly oblivious to the fact that she had helped murder her sister, Tammy, while setting up the poor girl to be raped by Paul Bernardo -- and that her family, you know, might be bothered by this fact. She was at an utter and total loss as to what the interviewer was referring. When the interviewer clued her in, Karla, of course, turned on all the outward appearances of emotion, and went through the well-rehearsed motions about how she will have to live for the rest of her life with the horrible things she has done. My impression was that those heinous deeds wouldn't bother her by the end of the interview. They'll doubtless be shunted aside in place of shopping and quaffing iced cappucinos.

Truly indicative of Karla's character and fibre was something I read today:
From "Karla Homolka Information" Web page regarding a segment on The Fifth Estate about Homolka: "Also what shocked me was her being taped while going through the house so Karla could point out what was done and where. First off in the living room she gets on the floor to show where she was positioned. Karla is dressed like a school girl with a pleated skirt, white blouse with Peter Pan collar and a buttoned sweater over top looking sweet as pie but showing where she was torturing her victim. Karla then gets up and starts asking about where her furniture ended up and if it was damaged, as if she totally forgot she just described a murder scene! They then go into the bathroom so she can show where they cleansed the body and seconds later, Karla turns again to the police and enquires about where her cosmetics and perfume is as she liked them back. last but not least, they head to the basement where she is to show them where she dismembered the body and as if she didn't have a care in the world, she suddenly stops and points to the floor and says "Could I take that carpet with me? My sister would like to have it?" The officer says no so she shrugs it off and proceeds into the room where they cut up that girl."
The most telling aspect of Homolka's time in jail is her relationship with Jean-Paul Gerbet, who was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend in 1998. Karla is a malignant magnet. Anyone to whom she feels an attraction ought to be immediately scooped up and chucked into the back of a BFI truck. Maybe that could be the public service she provides society on her release: drawing monsters out from the shadows in which they hide.

The prosecutors whom she manipulated and contorted into giving her that "Deal with the Devil" in 1993 are doubtless as steeped in denial as Homolka. Her relationship with Gerbet, among other questionable acts while in prison, are -- to my mind -- grounds for tearing up that rancid agreement and jailing Homolka indefinitely. But corner a lawyer into thinking he may be seen as having made a mistake, and you can ride the wave of his righteous indignation to the safety of shore every time. As Homolka has shown. Whole jailhouses of murderers will walk free before a lawyer puts doing the right thing above ego and making money.

The bottom line is, Karla Homolka/Teale is not rehabilitated. She is a danger to society. She is drawn to and continues to consort with murderers (however, the conditions of her release forbids this -- we'll see how she deals with this demand upon her emotional life). She is now out, among us, and fears for her safety. The irony of this predator with her song of self-pity. She does not want to be hunted. She does not want to be murdered. I guess she would know what these entail -- to the last, heart-sickening detail -- as she perpetrated such acts upon others. She wants protection, she wants to be left alone. Reminds me of what prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi said after he put Charles Manson away -- how Manson preached to his deranged followers that death was beautiful, that they were doing a favor for their victims by releasing them. But when it came time to face his own mortality in the form of the California gas chamber, Charles Manson fought tooth-and-nail to save his own wretched hide. I suppose it's not such a leap backward in character for murderers to also be hypocrites.

knowing the vapid and corrupt culture into which Karla Homolka/Teale has been released, I have no doubt that some irredeemable, repugnant television producer is right now hammering out the details to put on a reality show in which Karla dates O.J. Simpson. Maybe he would propose to her while picnicking on Alcatraz island. They could honeymoon in a Port-o-john in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

What a sad, sad, sad situation. This is all I have to say about it. My only hope is that the families of Karla's victims continue to have the support and sounding boards they need to ride this out. I can't imagine how they're feeling tonight.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Remembrance of Live Aid 1985

Excerpt from my book As My Sparks Fly Upward & Other Stories

The first rock concert I ever attended was to see Bob Dylan. I was fifteen. Since then I’ve seen most of my favorites: U2, Lou Reed, Stevie Ray Vaughn, among others. However, the greatest rock and roll moment I ever witnessed occurred in the summer of 1985: watching Live Aid on TV.

I was fourteen, and had been playing guitar for a couple of years, steeping myself in rock and roll mythology: reading Jim Morrison’s biography, ’Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky, the biography of Jimi Hendrix, Neil and Me, by Neil’s father, Scott Young. I discovered the film and soundtrack to Woodstock, 1969, the previous year. However, Live Aid was the first musical Happening of my life. I waited with keen anticipation to see Led Zeppelin and The Who—both reuniting for the event—along with Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Santana. Before any of them took the stage, U2 played.

I was home, strumming my guitar, paying little attention to U2’s performance until Bono launched into the chorus of their song “Bad”—his voice gathering like a storm, filling Wembley Stadium: ocean surf crashing upon shore. I marveled at the power, the plea in it.

Soon after, Bono dropped the microphone to the stage, and walked away.

As the band played, he jumped down to the platform where television cameras filmed the concert. He ran past a cameraman, and surveyed the massive audience.

I set my guitar aside, watching.

Bono waved his arms in a beckoning gesture, calling the crowd forward. He stopped. Seemed flustered, frustrated by the enormity of the audience. Then he bent over the platform’s guardrail, pointing into the crowd. Pointed, and brought both hands to his chest. Pointed and gestured to himself, singling someone out. Again and again, saying with his emphatic movements, “Her. Bring her to me.”

A gasp rippled through the audience when Bono climbed over the guardrail, and dropped into the moat between the security fence and the base of the stage. Three members of the security staff, in yellow T-shirts, worked to extract a young woman from the mob writhing at the fence. Photographers swarmed in.

When the young woman was pulled free, she threw herself into Bono’s arms.

And there, amid the tumult of security, photographers—garbage strewn on the ground from the crowd along the fence—the screaming multitudes thronging the field and filling the surrounding stands, Bono danced with the girl. Eyes closed. Holding her hand, holding her close, as though alone in a quiet pub, moving to a favourite song.

I watched, transfixed, breath caught in my throat, a flash of tears searing my eyes. I was only fourteen, didn’t know much about much, but always sensed there was more to rock and roll than electric guitars and long hair; more than just entertainment—and had just seen proof of that.

Bono kissed the girl, then climbed back up to the TV camera platform. He took up the microphone again, and filled Wembley—filled me—with his voice.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

History in Multiples of Twenty - Live Aid, Live8, and just how much money have we thrown at Africa?

Any time people get together to try and solve a problem, or simply shed light on suffering or injustice, I think it's a good thing. Sure, Live Aid in 1985 didn't end hunger in Africa. Live8 today won't bring shopping malls, soccer moms, and rivers flowing with Coca Cola to that afflicted continent, either. But I commend anyone willing to take on a problem, especially one so insurmountable as getting Africa on its feet. The world needs more of that kind of idealism.

Sneering cynics control our governments, stock markets, and entertainment. They have their say daily, and unquestionably would love to see the Live8 concerts flop. There is the self-important gobshite David Stubbs who gives his lame reasons why he won't be watching the concerts today. You see, people like David Stubbs believe that only easily solvable problems should be tackled. A message to all cancer researchers out there. Listen up all you social workers trying to make a difference one life at a time. Attention aid workers feeding the starving in impoverished nations. You're wasting your time. So says the likes of David Stubbs, who I'm sure it can be said never tried to solve any problem, ease any suffering, or aid any good cause.

I'm not watching the Live8 concerts today because I don't have cable TV. A high class problem, as my father would say.

While I do commend works like this, I have always been curious about the black hole of Africa's seemingly intractable troubles. Between Rome and the crown, Ireland never had a chance, ultimately losing a staggering portion of its population to emigration and starvation during the 1860s potato blight. Yet look at Ireland today -- it's flourishing. Poland has had the shit knocked out of it for hundreds of years. The map of the country has shrunk, just in the 20th Century, like a prune in the sun. Yet Poland today has the wherewithal to send troops to help in the Iraq war.

I have been aware of Africa's troubles for most of my life. As a child, when I wouldn't eat my dinner my parents told me about all of the starving children in Africa who'd kill to have the food on my plate. Money was always being raised at school for the missions in Africa. The heartbreaking images of starving children have been a staple on television commercials for C.A.R.E. and Save the Children for as long as I've been watching television.

During the winter when I was in eighth grade, a friend and I went door to door collecting money for famine relief in Ethiopia. We had been spurred on by the song "Do They Know It's Christmas?" We collected only a few hundred dollars. I'm sure David Stubbs would be glad to tell me how little good our miniscule contribution made, but we did it and there it was.

Fast forward to today -- the Live8 concerts are happening, we've got Bono, et al, demanding debt relief for Africa. Bono said on CNN recently that Live Aid was about charity, and that Live8 is about justice. Fair enough. The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization have histories as sordid as any of Africa's warlords and dictators. I always figured there was interest on the money lent to Africa, and elsewhere, but I never imagined these countries/continents being organized enough to pay it. Or even caring to pay it. From what Bono says, it seems that Africa has nothing else on its mind but the interest on its debts, putting money toward that before feeding their hungry. If that's the case, I think different people should be in charge of the money in Africa because I, for one, would be feeding the hungry before paying interest on anything.

Obviously, it's not all so easy, so cut-and-dried.

But then there was an article recently in the Telegraph that began:
The scale of the task facing Tony Blair in his drive to help Africa was laid bare yesterday when it emerged that Nigeria's past rulers stole or misused £220 billion.

That is as much as all the western aid given to Africa in almost four decades. The looting of Africa's most populous country amounted to a sum equivalent to 300 years of British aid for the continent.
Unless I'm utterly misreading this fairly straightforward article, this somewhat dents and stalls my enthusiasm for throwing money at the problems in Africa. And this is only in Nigeria. What the hell has gone on in the rest of the continent? So they achieve total and utter debt relief. Then what? Obviously the problem has not been Africa receiving no money from wealthy countries, but Africa's colossal misuse of that money. If Africa achieves total debt relief -- something that I shall soon be seeking -- who is there to ensure the money that would have been put toward its debts is being used properly? I haven't heard an answer to that question anywhere.

Is there anyone who can stand up and honestly and accurately say that giving one more dollar, Euro, pound, or drachma to Africa isn't sending that money down a rathole? If someone can, then I'll scratch out a cheque right now. Otherwise, I think some other solution is in order for Africa. Invade or let nature run its course, neither of which is remotely humane.

So, I'll listen to Bono, and try to believe that Africa can be saved. The best I can do from Onion Field, Ontario where I don't even have cable television or the wherewithal to pay my own bills -- much less the interest accruing on these bills -- I can at least send a positive vibe, a prayer, my congratulations, and my hope that lives in Africa, and elsewhere, are soon improved.

What does David Stubbs plan to do today rather than watching the Live8 concert?

"Instead of watching Live 8, I will be doing something considered morbid in these emotionalist times - I am going to go upstairs and have a good think."

That ought to save many more lives, David, than those unenlightened rock stars performing today.

One question for you, David. When you go upstairs to have a "good think," do you use your right hand or your left hand?

Friday, July 01, 2005

WerkHorrer -- Today, July 1st, is the First Anniversary...

... of when I was fired from Hewlett-Packard in Dearborn, Michigan.

It was one of the strangest, most surreal work situations I'd ever encountered -- some kind of weird Ponzi scheme perpetrated with the same economic prowess and criminal sophistication as the scheme in Mel Brooks' film The Producers. I was a technical writer on a project that at once sounded so vast (HP took over EDS's management of General Motor's "systems") and utterly ethereal at the same time.

The first people hired on this project were the technical writers. Note to HR staff everywhere: Project Managers should always be hired first -- they know what the hell is going on. Or, at least, pretend they do.

Not that we didn't have anything to do. Our days were ever so filled -- with waiting. If you're ever asked in a trivia game how long it takes HP to get four tech writers HP laptops, the answer is three weeks. Our days were filled, indeed -- with wondering, endless wondering.

We sat in empty cubicles surrounded by furtive people who averted their eyes whenever they walked past our area. When one of the tech writers made the mistake of asking if one of these ferret-like personages was our manager, the question was met with a look of horror and disgust -- and a shake of the head.

No, the managers were soon on their way -- flying in from North Carolina, California, from all over. They were crusty old white men who were, ironically, a bunch of techno-phobes. The tech writers had more than a few sardonic laughs over the fact that HP, whose motto was/is "Invent", and fancies itself to be somewhat a dabbler in technology, had at the helm of this project people who thought "archiving" our work a silly, redundant notion. When systems explode and hard drives go bad, and Fortuna takes a shit on your data, tech writers have learned to thank the deities for those "redundancies." And the idea of "secure archiving" seemed even more arcane and alien to these walking cadavers with gold pens in their shirt pockets, and their Dale Carnegie courses wagging all about them.

Bill Bertch was the name of the head gobshite. I remember there being quite a few "Bill"s involved in this fiasco that was steadily turning into a debacle. Or, was it a debacle fast becoming a fiasco...?

Ole Bill Bertch and his drugged California countenance, his bald, sunburned head, his rust-colored eyebrows, his eyes blue as gel capsules. He possessed a strange blend of grandfatherly bearing -- he was as old as Moses -- with an all-encompassing lethargic, Gomer Pyle incompetence. One day I nearly walked into him in a cramped meeting room. I muttered my reflexive "Sorry," to which he replied, "That's OK, I'm just a person." I was both glad and dismayed by that reassurance.

We had impromptu meetings, made lists of language-defying terms, mumbled about "parking lot issues," and did our best to give the appearance that we had the least idea about what was going on. There was much TechSpeak bandied about, many serious looking crusty old men acting like they carried the weight of the world on their narrow, villainous shoulders. Nodding sagely, absently at all that was said, which was probably as unintelligible to them as the barking of dogs.

By then the technical writers had their (our?) project manager. He was a hapless, harried middle-aged man named Rick Marshal. He was an amiable guy. He occupied the space next to me amid the cubicles. He did his best to give some semblance of understanding what was happening around us; what was required of us. He did his best to explain this, except it didn't seem to come out as English. It came out in that strange hybrid language that has no name. Maybe we could call it "Bullshit-lish" or "Treading-Water-lish" or simply "I-Don't-Know-lish." Rick was quite fluent in this language.

After two months amid the cubicles in Dearborn, the entire group of tech writers, recovery specialists, programmers, problem-solvers, problem-makers, cads, hangers-on, and gad-abouts were relocated to the basement -- the very bowels -- of the General Motors Tech Center in Warren, Michigan. We were welcomed like lepers arriving at a cocktail party in Martha's Vineyard; like carnivores showing up to a vegan rutabaga roast.

The miserable group of us were corraled into a single windowless room in which the walls were literally padded. There weren't enough chairs for us. It was all so painfully, laughably symbolic of Corporate Life. And there we milled about like a gaggle of retarded ants, gathering and carrying crumbs of angst and anxiety several times larger than our body mass, yet without the direction, intelligence, or sense of purpose of ants. We moved so that we were seen to move, to show we were capable of movement. We spoke so that the sound of our voices might be registered by someone else in the room; to show we were capable of speech. If one left his seat to use the rest room, he came back to find his belongings piled on the floor by the wall, and someone else sitting in his place -- working, presumably.

Rumors floated about. Rumors that the project would last longer than we were first told. Rumors that the project might be dropped the next day. One rumor, which proved true, was that my immediate project manager -- amiable, aimless Rick M. -- would be terminated within the month. Some unseen hand had turned its thumb downward on him. A pall followed him everywhere. We felt sorry for Rick. We were glad we were not him.

My pay checks continued to be sent to the Dearborn office at this time. The details of why I was not paid via Direct Deposit are many, multifarious, and complex, having to do with my being a citizen of another country, currency exchange rates, the cost of rice in China, and international money-laundering laws. So, I was paid by check, and that check was available to me only at the Dearborn office.

One morning, the antfarm atmosphere of the windowless, padded-walled room took on a new, wordlessly antagonistic slant. There are not even words in "Bullshit-lish" to adequately explain the oppressive, hopeless, wayward, forlorn something that assailed me that day. Suffice it to say that I am an intelligent, heartfelt human being who knows when his dignity is being used as a bedpan.

So, I left Warren for Dearborn to get my pay check. It felt like a sound, sane thing to do. It seemed like oxygen in place of the airless insanity of the go-nowhere project to which I was attached. Well, it appeared -- and no surprise in this -- that my going to Dearborn on that particular day, at that particular time was just the false move THEY were looking for -- many-eyed, mute, omnipresent, omni-idiotic THEY.

I retrieved my check in Dearborn and wandered into the empty area of cubicles where I had sat weeks before. Amid the silent, empty carnage of the nothingness was Rick Marshal, diligent at his HP laptop. He was startled to see me. By the surprised, vacant look on his confused face I wondered for a split second if he was going to say to me, "Who am I? Why am I here? What are THEY doing to me?" But he only asked what I was doing in Dearborn, why I wasn't in the padded room in Warren.

That evening -- having simply gone home from Dearborn rather than braving the torrential traffic back to Warren -- Rick called me at home. He sounded like a peace-maker on the telephone. He asked me to go into the Dearborn office the following morning. I allowed a fragment of myself to believe that he might have found other work -- something! -- for me to do in the Dearborn office.

As it turned out, at 7:30 a.m. on July 1st, Rick and I sat in an empty meeting room and he terminated my contract. Which raised a semantic question in my mind: Can a man who, himself, is being fired actually fire someone else? I didn't voice the question. I was too filled with relief to do so. I simply left my laptop and other HP accoutrements on my former desk and made to leave. Rick looked up from his cubicle as I did this, seeming startled, ever startled, and asked if I wasn't going to do "something" with my laptop and accoutrements. I replied, "They're not mine anymore. Have at them, man. Have at them."

And I left.

And that was a year ago.