Monthly Archives: September 2015

Today, as we drove back home from the Museum of Science via I-93, I looked up from the road, for a moment, to see one of the digital billboards next to the interstate shift from an Arby’s ad to reading:


That was it. The exclamation point was theirs. No mention of tour dates or concert venues, just two blazing words, yellow on electric blue, screaming out to Greater Boston:


I like to think that somewhere, in a windowless office many miles away, pounding on the keyboard that kept the numberless commercials shifting across the LEDscape, a nameless operator was shaking his booty hard, his earbuds carrying the music as an artery carries blood, mouthing the words as boogied “I feel for you/Think I looooove you…”

His groove escaped him, leaping the operations control and broadcasting out across the city.

I have always heard the Doors’ “Light My Fire” thusly

The time to hesitate is through
No time to wallow in the mire
China we can only lose
And our love become a funeral pyre

Let me explain. There was a phrase, common in the McCarthy era: “Who Lost China?” As in, who was responsible for allowing good, decent, Pearl-Buckesque China to be subsumed by the Kremlin Red Slava Rodina Konspiracy (Spoiler: McCarthy, upon consultation with what he pulled out of his own ass, decided it was Owen Lattimore)? By including the saying in “Light My Fire,” Jim Morrison was mocking the anticommunist piety of the previous decade, putting the ghost of Tailgunner Joe on the altar of his Fire

Did I honestly ever think those were the lyrics? Not really. But that’s what hit my brain.

(I also got the first line wrong, though not in any way that changed the meaning)

Sometimes it takes a long time to write a book. Sometimes a very long time. And that whole time, you chafe on what else you could be spending the time, but–you hope, you gamble–the book is worth it.

Not an uncommon thought, I know, but I just wanted to say it. To God and to history, as with all else on this blog.

Tom’s house was shaped like a sandwich, between a flat, white roof, and a flat white floor on struts over concrete pilings. The living room filled the front half of the house, walled with windows showing the sea and covered with thick white carpet, save for a portion of the center floor that was glass, through which could be seen a tongue of sand that connected with the beach, making the house part of the beach. The only furniture was his father’s drinks cabinet, pressed into the back corner.

Behind the living room ran the single white hallway, and the first room was the kitchen. Besides a white stove and a white microwave, there was a small, circular white table and two white chairs. There Miss Thomas, his governess, made Tom his morning soldiers and his jam butties for tea.

Next to the kitchen was Miss Thomas’s room, and therein sat things Tom did not care for, like Miss Thomas’ photographs of her family in England, and so that door was always closed. Next to Miss Thomas’ room was Tom’s room. White, with the same white carpet as in the living room, and no windows, but a skylight. His bed was white and there was a white chest of drawers, with one drawer for his collection of shells, one drawer for his collection of rocks, and one drawer for his clothes. Atop the dresser stood a small, round white television set, and on that set he watched The Bugaloos and Space Ghost and Bugs Bunny, one hour every day and, in indulgence, two hours on Saturday.

Next to Tom’s room was his father’s room, sometimes. Tom’s father was a musician, like the Bugaloos, and most of the time he was off someplace making music, and that was very fine. When he was home, men would come to see him, reporters, from places like Rolling Stone and Creem and Crawdaddy. His father sat in a white chair shaped like an egg and the reporter tried to sit on the precarious sofa, and they would talk. The reporter asked a question and his father talked for a long time about whatever he wanted to and then stopped and the reporter asked another question. Tom sat by the edge of the doorway to hear his father’s voice.

His father would say

“I didn’t want to go solo. That’s a lie. The band was my life. But they forced me to choose…”


“I find California to be a much more open place than Britain. People are more willing to talk here, to question. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back…”


“Possessions are chains. I realize that now. Every time you own something, it’s as if you’re clamping a manacle on your leg. I’m getting rid of mine…”

and suchlike things, until it was time for his father to take the reporter out back to the garage, to see the gold records and the Rolls-Royce and the recording studio.

The only other time Tom heard his father’s voice was late at night, when his father would come in and sit on his bed, the moon shining through the skylight. He would take Tom’s hand, and Tom could smell the drinks cabinet, and shake it until Tom shivered, and say “Who’s my wizard little boy?”

Tom would reply “I am! I am!”

They would be together in the dark for a while, laughing. Then his father would leave and he would go back to sleep.

In the morning, Tom walked out on the beach. Sometimes Miss Thomas accompanied him, but more often he went alone. He dragged his feet through the sand, shifting between beach and surf, chasing gulls. He enjoyed being in the sea and on the land; he liked the in-betweenness. When he saw an interesting shell or rock, he kept it, but his standards had grown high, and there were few such now.

Sometimes he arrived at people. Down the shore, men and women in bathing suits, with dogs and frisbees, swimming and surfing, laughing and talking. He watched them from afar. Miss Thomas urged him to go closer, to talk with them, but he didn’t care to. He waved to them, and they smiled and waved back, and that was very fine. The afternoon was taken up with his collections, or television, or looking very closely at the sand under the floor of the living room. Eventually he returned to the beach, to watch the sun sink into the welcoming sea, and often as he did he would fall asleep, and Miss Thomas carried him to bed.

Shaking awake, in the dark. He could smell the drinks cabinet, and knew it was his father, and was glad. What noise was this?

“Forgive me,” his father said. “I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m couldn’t help her. I’m trying my best. Please forgive me!”

The moonlight glinted off water on his father’s face, soaking into his beard. His father was crying.

Tom didn’t understand. There was no crying in the house. He himself had given up crying long ago. He waited for his father to stop, to ask who his wizard little boy was, but his father never did.

“I’m sorry,” his father repeated. “I don’t know what to do.”

Tom could not say “I am!” to that.

Tom did not return to sleep. In the morning he walked into the kitchen, pushed aside his soldiers, and demanded an explanation.

Miss Thomas threw up her hands and said “You father was upset, is all. One of those reporters came, to write an article about the new album, only he wrote it about you. ‘The Loneliest Little Boy in California,’ was the title, and he talked about you, and the house, and what happened to your mother, and-oh, everything. It’s a shame, it is, that they can write those things.”

“The Loneliest Little Boy in California?” But he was not lonely. He was with the sea and the beach and the house and his father, and it was all very fine, or had been fine until this outsider had poked into things that didn’t concern him.

Tom was wroth with this reporter. For the first time, he was angry.

He resolved to be avenged of his anger.

The phrase “party line” has three distinct meanings in American English. The first is an element of Communist doctrine. Once the vanguard of the Party had determined the truth of an issue by process of dialectical materialism, it became the “party line,” and all members of the Party had to believe it. Second, and completely separate, a “party line” was a telephone technology, common in rural areas during the early-to-mid 20th century, where a number of households shared a single line, which only one household could use at a time and on which all the households could eavesdrop. Finally, in the late 20th century, a “party line” was a phone service where users would pay X dollars a minute to engage in group chat, often of an erotic nature.

So if you had a shared phone line dedicated to erotic discussion of Communist doctrine, it’d be a party line party line party line.

Staring at the sea this afternoon, it occurred to me that the urge to sail is not basic to human civilization. None of the various polities to leap to agricultural civilization (Sumeria, Egypt, Valley of Mexico, Papua, China, etc) were seafaring cultures. They were mostly riverine, enjoying the more predictable and useful fresh water. The Indians positively hated the “Black Water.” It’s not until we get to the Phoenicians, the Greeks, and the early Indonesian kingdoms that we see real maritime societies.

So people aren’t too quick to go down to the sea in ships. It takes some prepping first, to get used to the idea.

Modern society in a developed nation relies on systems: systems of transportation and communication, systems of energy production, systems of waste disposal. These systems have been laboriously built up over the past two centuries. They channel tremendous force.

And if that force is misdirected, even a little bit, it’s like a tank running over a garden shed.

I would like to formally retract, this 9/11 morning, this post I wrote on my old blog. Not the part about what the day was like; that’s fine. What I mean is my subsequent analysis that 9/11 didn’t mean that much. That’s ridiculous, the worst kind of contrarian nonsense. I like to think the reason I couldn’t come up with anything better than the truly puerile conclusion of the post is because I didn’t really believe, in my heart of hearts, what I was saying.

What I now think about 9/11 is that it was, of course, the beginning of the era. The 90s were an indian summer for the world, a time of peace and prosperity between the end of the Cold War and the new century.

(I speak in general here. It doesn’t work if you’re, say, Rwandan).

9/11 revealed that The System of the World had quietly changed. In the 20th century, you had to watch out for nation states. They had vast armies, fueled by the power to tax and draft, war machines backed by bureaucracies, flanked by diplomats who argued their causes in vast and serious venues like the U.N.. In the 21st century, the danger has become anyone with a box cutter, a cause, and the knowledge of how to twist the complexities of postindustrial society against itself.

In William Gibson’s Neuromancer, there’s a scene where a corporate office is raided. The attackers (our protagonists) use various stimuli to induce a psychotic break in the employees, causing a riot, in order to steal something in the chaos. The attack is done with the aid of a group of mercenary hackers, and blamed on religious terrorists. Blood coats the lobby floor, but it’s nothing personal. The dead were just in the way.

Is this our time, when for any reason we can find ourselves caught up in the machinations of people acting in a sovereign fashion, for their own aims, unaccountable to any law or value, completely regardless of civilian lives?

Recently I’ve taken up the bad habit of watching too many 9/11 videos on Youtube.

This one, rare footage of the first plane hitting, gives us the sound of the future arriving Express.

This, with running, and screaming, and the ominous loss of feed.

But I keep coming back to this one, to the venomous clouds, skyscraper tall, billowing out to engulf the world.

Life–the unquantifiable and ill-defined thing life–takes perfectly ordinary atoms & molecules and gives them a motive force, like throwing a stick into a river. Suddenly, it zips. And here’s the weird part: I cannot take into my body any molecules that have not been transformed by the force of life. Unliving molecules are useless–actually harmful–to my body. Yet the molecules in question need not be alive at the time when I ingest them, only that they once were, as if they earned some kind of degree. Trees can suck from the earth, and lichens from rock, but either of these would poison me.

The answer to this oddness is, of course, that not just any old molecules will do. My body needs very specific chemical forms of molecules formed by life. By taking vitamins, we have finally found a way to fake our bodies out, thinking it has found those life-transformed molecules when it really hasn’t. But one cannot live on vitamins alone.

And when I die, my molecules will be on the loose again, ready to be snatched up by other lives.