Friday, July 31, 2009

Temperate Zone

At latitudes neither north nor south,

between longing and flight,

ice pulls and fire dogs.

The wood sheds its stories.


& apophatophytes

keep the decidual feast

feed on the complex humus.

The page lies


on the tongue.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Light of God

If anyone bothers to ask me what I photograph, my standard answer is, "I take pictures of weeds." It's a cheeky reply, and intentionally a little off-putting. And it's true. I take pictures of weeds. I like weeds: common, small, negligible, despised, random, ubiquitous, living in the cracks of civilization. I identify with them. I love them, even.

Raytheon is not a weed. It is a corporation, a defense contractor, and the world's largest producer of guided missiles. Until a few years ago there was a branch of Raytheon three blocks from my house, giving me ample opportunity to contemplate the ironies of its name: Raytheon, the light of God.

DK has been an ardent proponent of diversification of my subject matter. Industrial wastes, he whispers, seductively. He knows me well. And, last week, when he reported that the demolition of Raytheon was in its last stages, I could not resist. I grabbed the D70, threw on an unaccustomed, ancient Tamron 28-300mm f3.5-6.3 zoom, and headed down Willow street toward the action.

I like Willow Street. It has no willow trees, but it does have a little market with a bracing red sign,

a decent and colorfully painted Chinese Restaurant -- The Three Fortunes --

and a house with a magnificent mansard roof.

I turned onto Grove Street, past the recently-shuttered Standard Thomson plant, a company that makes automobile thermostats. Times are hard. Companies are downsizing, and people are getting RIF'ed. Ever heard that peppy acronym ? Ever heard it used as a verb ? I have. It means "Reduction In Force" AKA shitcanned. Frankly, I prefer shitcanned. Swallowed up, digested -- all possible usefulness extracted -- then excreted. Into the shit can.

Feeling gloomy, I headed past the Fisheye of God toward the Light of God. I hadn't been paying much attention to the demolition. Only a week ago I'd noticed that the Raytheon skyboxes were gone. I felt a pang of loss. I should have been paying more attention. Things slip quietly away, and then are gone. I'd imagined them as hermitages for stylites; I'm sure they were far more fell in purpose, something to do with testing bombsights or radar.

I was not prepared for the vistas of destruction that awaited me on Seyon Street. The sky was cooperating, doing a little post-apocalyptic turn. Fascination replaced gloom, at least for the time being.

The pleasure was visual, mechanical; I admit that there was a frisson of glee at seeing the mother of bombs looking much like she had fallen prey to her own progeny. Entirely irrational, to be sure. Missiles were undoubtedly rolling off some other assembly line somewhere, abetted by folks yet-unRIF'ed, folks with kids to feed, missiles destined

to reply to missiles rolling off a distant assembly line tended by other folks with kids to feed, while ideologies grind on in more rarified stratospheres.

There had been a bit of a NIMBY stir a few years back when a developer had proposed building a massive big-box hardware chain store on site. We'd wondered until recently what had become of that controversy. Ours is not one of those toney neighborhoods that easily resists development. In neighborhoods like ours, money talks then walks right in, sits right down, and starts chewing. Triple the traffic ? The litter ? The noise ? the light ? No problemo ! What's a few squished kids in face of the progress of commerce ? Who said human sacrifice was passe ? The gods are ALWAYS hungry.

It came out this week that Big Box Hardware is not coming. The same developer will grace our fair neighborhood with, of all things, an entity called "BJ's Wholesale Club."

The idea of having to PAY to pay to shop at a store has always seemed strange to me. I have only been to such an establishment once, many years ago, with my late mother-in-law in Topeka. She was a shopper's shopper, and a card carrying member of the "Hypermart" -- which has since become a Walmart -- and we accompanied her on some shopping expedition. I must say there are worse things in Topeka -- Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church comes to mind -- but Hypermart was down there.

And now that Hypermart-By-Any-Other-Name has stalked me, found me and followed me to Waltham --

-- can Fred Phelps be far behind ? After all, I took it to a personal level with Fred on one of our Kansas trips. I did stop short of mooning him, thanks the presence of aforementioned Mother-In-Law in the car as DK took my otherwise cheeky picture. (In interest of full disclosure, I have NOT reposted or linked to the photo in which I am deploying a somewhat different finger -- oh, alright, fingers -- in front of Fred's "church".)

In any case, BJ's is coming to Wally, to my neighborhood, a big, bloated consumerist hyper-emporium of mass quantities of everything, replacing a hyper-emporium of mass quantities of guided missiles.

I sighed and kept snapping pictures of vistas of destruction.

I told myself: Self, people need jobs, and 5-gallon vats of marshmallow fluff are kinder (or at least more slowly destructive)to the human body than a guided missile.

But as I looked at the crumbling shell of the factory -- the place of making -- I couldn't help feeling that I was witnessing, at least in theory, a devolution.

Consider, if you will, the analogy: Westboro Baptist Church is to Christianity as Raytheon is to factory.

I don't pretend to understand the complexities of trade, geopolitics and economics. Deep at the heart of that nexus is exploitation, the idea that people are expendable cogs in the money-making machine. When we hear examples to the contrary -- Aaron Feuerstein paying his workers for years after a fire destroyed the Polartec factory in Methuen, or Salem's Ronald Lappin personally replenishing his workers' pension fund when the Madoff scam drained it-- we are stunned. These men, both deeply religious, were acting out of a profound moral obligation to their workers, their fellow humans.

I came to the end of Seyon Street and headed back toward Willow. I would miss the visual appeal of Raytheon's serrated roof and skyboxes. BJ's would undoubtedly be a big square utilitarian box, one among thousands, grating to eye and soul.

I looked down. There it was: grass, the UR-weed, the comforting blanket, the disconcerting metaphor for our lives. I smiled at it through the chain link. It would prevail.

And that was something.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The "Gift" of Blab

Blab. What a great word. It's the bl that makes it. Cross your ears and listen: speech and conversation devolves to bl-bl-bl-bl-bl

It's not just the spoken word. Cross your eyes and read: the text morphs to a jiggling bl-bl-bl-bl-bl-

I brought a book to the HMO yesterday to read while waiting to get the increasing translucency of my bones quantified. I'd seen it lauded on the internets as insightful, difficult, worth reading.

I sat there reading in a fume of increasing annoyance. To my left a noisy madonna-and-child, we-are-so-kute duo was attracting the adoring and vocal attention of a grandmotherly type across the way. Which only served to inflame my annoyance at the text, the tone of which I can only describe as breezily self-aggrandizing, pitched some where between snake-oil sales and pick-up lines. It's difficult to say what Caputo most adores -- the word "I" or putting (presumably "I"ronizing) "quotes" around words.

I-I-I-I- Let us speak then of love. I-I-I-I- "God" God. Know The Secret. I-I-I-I- (dollop of gratuitous Latin followed by popcult allusion) -- DERRIDA!!! -- I-I-I-I-I- gratuitous "quotations" ! The Matrix ! Star Wars ! Luurrve -- THE IMPOSSIBLE !!!! Sympathetic antipathy ! Zarathustra !!! I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I- ELVIS, UFOS, BABY BOOMERS ! QUOTATION MARKS "AROUND" EVERYTHING ! "O" the "Irony" ! bl-bl-bl-bl-bl- !!!

I wanted to hurl the very slim volume against the wall somewhere above the head of the fawning Grandmother. I restrained myself.

It reminded me of another slim volume to which I'd had a very similar reaction of visceral annoyance. Which surprised me, since the title -- Against Happiness -- had seemed to promise something congenial to my melancholic disposition. What choir doesn't enjoy being preached to ?

But, alas, I was annoyed. Deeply annoyed. The writer, a scholar whose field is the romantic poets, rails against Americans who shallowly pursue shallow diversions -- MacDonald's, Disney, TV, malls, fundamentalist religions -- as he glorifies his own clear-eyed, death-embracing melancholia.

I kept asking myself, "How can he even write with one wrist so firmly affixed to his tormented brow and the other hand clutching at his tortured breast ? And write such purple prose, at that, so larded with adjectives and alliteration ? Not to mention taking so many cheap shots into the well-stocked fish barrel ?"

A small sampling:

(on malls) We trade glistening leaves for peevish shimmering.
(on road trips) We wish to sit by the grizzled highway -- oaks, hoary and twisted, hover at out backs -- and dream of deserts broken only by bones.
All creatures are meldings of grandeur and gloom.
Behind the pastel lurks lament.

He lets loose on "gated communities" -- sequestered from the gorgeous turmoil of the organic world -- and of "suburban malls" -- smooth and blank, bland and blinding, and declares that few inhabiting these gated communities and the urban malls likely give a thought to the environmental costs of these postmodern conveniences...

And then, a page later, waxes poetic about his own house, the sort adored by melancholics -- The windows in winter barely resist the blasts of freezing air...I love this old wreck of a building. I'd never trade it in for one of those warm and efficient prefabricated houses in the suburbs. I enjoy its sweet decadence too much.

I see. Suburban "envirmonmental costs," bad. His own leaky energy hog of a house, good.

That's when I hurled Against Happiness against the wall. Dude's giving a bad name to melancholia.

He's at his worst when he's railing at "happy Americans" -- the generalities glitter so much they're blinding -- who have "probably never moved among autumn's multihued lustrousness, through the serrated forms of orange and amber and crimson, with hearts irreparably ripped." Instead, he claims, they are wolfing down Happy meals, shopping at the Disney Store, keying their Blackberries, taking their Paxil and Lunesta in front of their large-screen TVs, eating Power Bars and pork rinds, Jello and Kool Whip, all in an attempt, of course, to escape death.

"You self-rightous prick," I screamed at the "Against Happiness" -shaped dent in the (dilapidated) plaster of my (ramshackle, circa 1894) bedroom wall.

"How the FUCK do you know what's in the heart of the man or woman eating the Happy Meal, or living in the gated community ? You don't, do you. You have never bothered to ask. You wouldn't, would you, condescend to even feign interest in the contents of their hearts; it is beneath you and your multihued, lustrous melancholia and your irreparably-ripped-by-autumn heart. To you they are simply happy, willing, narcotized consumers of the offerings that the cynical corporate world has deemed most profitable. Can you imagine that they are humans with the same stunned being-in-the-world as you, humans not fortunate enough to have been exposed -- as you have been -- to other, more liberating cultural options ?"

And, moreover, bl-bl-bl-bl-bl. Bl-bl. "Bl" -bl-bl-bl-bl-bl-bl-bl-bl !

BL !

Monday, July 13, 2009

Obscure Nachos

It happens to us all every so often, I am sure: the nachos, which always seemed so straightforward, so crispily salty and tasty, suddenly become obscure.

You push the basket away, whether from surfeit or some generalized dysgeusia and look around. There's grease on your fingers, crumbs in your lap; you stare in disbelief at the failed appetizer. Would some salsa help ? Una cerveza ? You look around: the waiter has disappeared.

So you get up and head out into the street. There is precedent to this going forth but you can't quite recall the details. No matter. You are looking for something, but what ? Wontons ? Papadum ? Saltines ?

The street is, of course, dark and empty and vaguely familiar, like the memory of a street in a dream. You sit on a bench under a streetlight and wait. The light flickers out.

What, then, are you waiting for ? A bus ? Godot ?

It strikes you that the essential element of waiting, time, is absent. So much for the "waiting for" question. What else is gone ? Air ? Gravity ? But you are breathing, and your buttocks have not floated free from the slats of the bench.

And you are hungry. Odd, after all those nachos.

After awhile you get up from the bench and head down the sidewalk. A bus roars past, covered in bright signage. You get a fleeting glimpse of words -- GRAB, HELP -- before the night swallows it up like a nacho. You decide to take a nap. As you curl up in a shadowy doorway, head to cement, you recall a song, something about doors and gates, something about lifting up their heads. It never made much sense to you, and makes even less sense now.

There is something about sense that has never made much sense to you, you recall as sleep overtakes you, overwhelms you.

When you awaken you have not dreamed and it is not morning. There is no question of toast.

Nonetheless, you clear your throat and try to make a sound.

What comes out startles you. You clamp your hand over your mouth. It is too late. There it is, at your feet squirming like a slug or a larva, naked and obscene and lily-white. It looks up at you with a look that can only be described as imploring.

You flee.

Running, you wonder: is this allergy ? nightmare ? retribution ? an unsolicited phone call from the chimney sweep d'antan ?

You have no idea. Which is refreshing. You run faster. You are running, in fact, like the wind. In fact, you like the wind ! And you would like to swear something, anything, on a stack of burning Bibles.

But not until you've had breakfast.

You stop, not in the least out of breath, and look around. Across the street see a faded sign: Taqueria. It looks oddly familiar. Have you come full circle ?

You see a familiar waiter in the window. The solicitous one who always forgives you when you stiff him.

You cross the street. This time the nachos will be light, crispy. This time you will leave a big tip.