Category: Reading

Poem of the day

Homegrown Terror

The people who walk down back alleys
must have something to hide
subversives, if not terrorists
avoiding prying eyes

They seem poor and tired
but that could be just a front
they’re probably a sleeper cell
dreaming of martyrdom

Tourist: An Epithet

In the past several weeks I’ve had conversations during which I made disparaging remarks about tourists.

“I hate ’em,” I snarled, “they are lower order creatures, on par with ambulatory trilobites.”

Words to that effect.

But on one occasion, I was reminded that during the summer of 2016 my wife and I spent an entire month overseas, visiting three countries and soaking up the atmosphere like parched sponges. Didn’t that make me, ahem, a tourist?

Immediately after the accusation was leveled at me I became angry, defensive, denying the charge vehemently.

See, my notion of tourism is that it’s a necessary evil, like gut bacteria or liberal politicians. Yes, it can greatly benefit the economy of a nation but, in so doing, it also exacts a certain psychic toll. I mean, there were some parts of Prague that reminded me of Disneyland (and that is not a good thing).

For myself, rather than tourist, I prefer the term “visitor” or perhaps even “guest”.

Let me illustrate what I think is the difference between a visitor to a foreign country and a tourist with this analogy:

After a perfunctory knock, a stranger enters your home, basically brushing past you as he marches over to the table, seats himself and waits to be served. He doesn’t look right or left, doesn’t check out the pictures on the walls, the arrangement of the furniture; there’s no small talk, this person just wants to be fed.

And so you bring forth the courses you’ve spent all day preparing, but the food is unpleasant and exotic to the stranger, who loudly bemoans the lack of familiar favorites. The water tastes funny too and they can’t understand your weird accent.

Then, finally, the stranger glances at his watch, bolting abruptly because they have another dinner appointment further down the road (hopefully boasting better fare than this sorry joint). No real human contact, no effort made to immerse themselves in their surroundings and engage with their host. Only interested in stuffing their fat faces as quickly as possible and then moving on to the next trough.

See what I mean?

I personally think it’s quite easy to make distinctions between feelthy touristas and those who are genuinely interested in their chosen destination, doing their research, learning a few words of the language ahead of time, apprising themselves of some of the historical and cultural features specific to the region in question.

Further:

Visitors have bucket lists, tourists have checklists.

A visitor will seek out a nondescript street corner once glimpsed in an obscure “B” movie; a tourist goes on inclusive, all-you-can-eat-and-drink junkets, spending hours trying to tan their pasty bodies on a private beach, the only locals in evidence the ones employed as service personnel.

Tourists patronize expat bars and seek out others of their kind; visitors deftly avoid anyone reeking of their home country and venture far afield to escape their idiotic compatriots.

Visitors seek experience, interaction; tourists are after visuals, placing themselves front and center in every picture they take, “selfies” amid the ruins, egos the size of the Parthenon.

A tourist never gets deliberately lost or risks chance encounters.

A tourist is rarely pleasantly surprised or jolted by insight.

A tourist secretly despises the countries they visit and can’t wait to get back home and pretend otherwise.

A visitor gamely struggles with the native dialect; tourists insist on talking their own lingo in A VERY LOUD VOICE.

To a tourist, any place worth seeing has to look like it belongs on a postcard.

A tourist says “cool”, meaning worthy of yet another picture, and “quaint” when they mean old and useless.

A tourist can enter a thousand-year-old church and completely ignore the gorgeous, stained glass windows, hand-carved pulpit and ancient aura, instead fixating on a middle-aged nun praying near the back who’s a dead ringer for their aunt Gladys.

A visitor never completely shakes off the places they explore and inhabit; a tourist takes nothing from the sites and monuments they see and leaves nothing of themselves behind.

A visitor is respectful, tolerant, gracious; a tourist vain, easily bored, rude, suspicious  and disdainful.

A visitor departs with regret, a tourist with relief.

Visitors smile, tourists grimace.

Visitors say “thank you”, tourists begrudge even a modest tip.

Visitors try and fit in, tourists don’t bother.

Visitors are pilgrims, tourists consumers.

 

“Mouth”: The Table of Contents

My new book Mouth: Rants and Routines contains over 40 broadsides on a variety of subjects near and drear to my heart.

I’m posting the Table of Contents below, just to illustrate the breadth and diversity of the subject matter.

In the meantime, I urge you to pop over to a site that has recently posted one of the most personal essays from Mouth, a warts-and-all overview of my three-decade long writing career, with the promising title “Man of Constant Failure”. Click here to read it.

I also posted one of my favorite bits, a takedown of stupid comic book movies and the critics who laud them, over at my film site, Cinema Arete. Click here to read it.

And don’t forget the live performance of some of the essays from Mouth I recorded in my living room before a very appreciative audience. I loaded it on to Bandcamp for free listening. Click here to tune in.

And now, the aforementioned Table of Contents. The roll call of infamy:

Introduction

Disgraceland (I)

The Attractions of Misanthropy

White Riot

Phone Sex

This movie sucks (and so do you)

Paris is Burning

Coming Soon to Your Hometown

I’ve Seen the Future, Baby, and It’s Boring

God, A Concept

Self-Loathing

Bad At Sex

Agents of Control

Profanity

Who are you? (I)

Good, Honest Hatred

Family

Friends

Kissing

Chicken Little

Disgraceland (II)

Man to Man

Christians & Taliban

Foot in Mouth Disease

Who are you? (II)

First Impressions

Uncommon Fears

Questions

Stupid People: A Case For Eugenics?

I Don’t Care

Kill Yourself

Trades People

Get Out Your Hankies

Gun Crazy

Dreamer

Who are you? (III)

Single People

Man of Constant Failure

People Who Take Signs to Public Events

Between the Idea and the Reality

In Praise of Book Burning

Killing Alexander

Anger Management

MADM

I Hate White People

Love

Distress Call

Disgraceland (Coda)

Acknowledgements

* * * * *

Mouth: Rants & Routines is currently being prepped for publication as an e-book/Kindle and will be available for sale and downloading by the last week of May.

Check back here in the coming days for further updates.

 

 

Excerpt from MOUTH: RANTS & ROUTINES

Christians and Taliban

My assertion that a fundamentalist Christian regime would be indistinguishable from the Taliban’s brutal reign in Afghanistan doesn’t sit well with some of the Jesus freaks I know, but I defend its essential accuracy and challenge anyone who believes otherwise to make their case.

C’mon, let’s hear it.

Because, to me, any theocracy, regardless of its creed or region of origin, will claim to be ruling on behalf of, or in accord with, its sacred deity. Which means all of its laws and edicts come stamped with the seal of approval of their chosen god—how can you possibly debate or amend a piece of legislation boasting the smoking signature of the Almighty?

Let’s take this one step further: if those in power believe themselves to be, literally, official spokespeople for some divine spirit, what is the point of opposition parties and free and open elections? Wouldn’t any expression of dissent, however mild, be the equivalent of willful defiance against god’s personal representatives? Wouldn’t that constitute heresy?

And you know what happens to heretics.

Theocracies aren’t big on laughs. Our great comedians and satirists wouldn’t fare well under sharia law; they would be among the first to be rounded up, for mocking the official state religion, daring use humor to make their point. Think of the former Soviet Union—some poor sonofabitch makes a joke about Stalin’s moustache and the next thing you know he’s on his way to a gulag, never to be seen again.

Know any great comedians working during the Third Reich? What are the stand-up acts like in Saudi Arabia or Iran—pretty toothless, I’m guessing.

Once a theocracy is installed, suddenly capital punishment comes back into vogue, have you noticed that? The more gruesome the method of dispatching wrongdoers, the better. Gouts of blood and torn bodies make a strong impression on the plebs.

Why stop there? Why not resurrect the lost art of stoning for dealing with adulterers and miscreants of every stripe? Chop off the hands of thieves, burn witches (and other troublesome females), bring back the Inquisition and, what the hell, crucifixion for the really intractable cases.

In some Moslem countries there are religious police who confront truant worshippers, shaming or arresting anyone who isn’t suitably attired or fails to conform to their puritanical standards.

I can see whack-job Christians nodding in agreement. “Great idea, let’s steal it…”

Yeah, like you did the virgin birth, the Great Flood, resurrection and a good deal more of the details and tenets of your faith.

Liberal education? Fuggetaboutit. Schools and universities will have their curriculums rewritten, bowdlerized, ensuring that nothing contrary to scripture makes it into young, impressionable minds.

Science? Are you kidding? The religiously inclined don’t believe in nonsense like dinosaurs or evolution or (guffaws of laughter) the moon landing.

Health professionals will be constrained by statutes outlawing abortion, birth control; we will no longer retain autonomy over our own bodies. Human rights and individual freedoms amount to nothing when they run afoul of dogma.

Sounds good to me, pipes up a grey-haired, fat, ugly, white man, speaking on behalf of the religious Right.

Fundamentalists believe we have strayed too far from our simple, god-fearing roots. We’ve forgotten our Sunday school lessons about what a jealous, vengeful deity demands of his flock and the genocidal horrors awaiting us should we wander from the appointed path into the surrounding wilderness.

The Taliban used to execute criminals and political enemies in soccer stadiums or other public venues. I’ve read reports of gay men and women thrown off high buildings, sometimes by their closest relatives. The Iranians, I recall, in the aftermath of their 1979 revolution, used to string up dissidents (“terrorists”) from cherry pickers.

But, of course, no innocent parties were ever punished by mistake.

Theocracies don’t make mistakes.

Theocracies are fair and impartial and unmarred by even the suggestion of corruption or scandal. God keeps his priests and officials on the straight and narrow. Each of them a paragon of virtue, no one abusing his/her station for personal gain.

And so any kind of oversight is an absurd concept. God watches over the ruling caste, not some outside agency (and they can quote chapter and verse why this is so).   An independent media is similarly irrelevant.

Religious fanatics making laws and rendering “just” verdicts. For some, this is the best possible scenario as far as governance goes; for the rest of us it is a prison without bars, a conversation where everyone is listening, a stagnant, oppressive society directed and administered by fiery-eyed preachers and homicidal zealots.

No privacy (that grants the possibility of critical thought).

Public displays of loyalty are mandatory.

The buses to the killing ground constantly filled to overflowing.

One stone each, wait until you get the signal.

God himself has sanctioned this punishment and, therefore, you’re not in a position where you can safely refuse to take part. Any hint of reluctance or expression of doubt is tantamount to treason.

A single tear could give you away.

And they’re always, always watching.

* * * * *

This essay appears in my collection of diatribes and broadsides Mouth: Rants & Routines, which will be published in e-book and Kindle formats later this month (Black Dog Press)

Live! From our living room!

What a night.

I confess to feeling nervous—how would people, even enlightened, progressive types, react to my rants on subjects that would strike many as too close to home?

As the clock wound down and the reading date we’d chosen inched closer and closer, I felt my nerves twanging like guitar strings. On the day in question, I set up chairs in our living room, cleaned the house from top to bottom and wondered if I’d be a few friends shyer once the evening was over.

My latest book, Mouth: Rants and Routines, is a no-holds-barred attack on political correctness and its dim-witted minions, except this time, the criticism is coming from the far Left. This will be considered unconscionable by some, a betrayal of my roots.

Bullshit.

PC and its accompanying trendy social causes have diverted the attention of progressives and advanced the agenda of people only interested in narrow, single issues, rather than trying to build a giant tent that would encompass all those who struggle in the crushing grip of capitalism, men, women and children who lack food and health and shelter security. I’m talking about folks working two or three part-time jobs in a precarious economic climate; single mothers, people living on fixed incomes that amount to no incomes at all, once the rent and bills are paid.

And then there is the existential threat presented by climate change: while some of us fuss about, wondering where we fit on the sexual spectrum or fret over what bathroom is most appropriate or which personal pronoun to use when referring to ourselves, half the world is burning.

Mouth is a bitter pill to swallow, no question, and will offend a lot of individuals who like to wear their beliefs on their sleeves, visible to everyone, a display of righteousness and piety and sanctimoniousness that would make a medieval Pope blush.

As my Introduction to the book warns:

“If you’re a wishy-washy liberal, someone who sits on the fence until their ass is black and blue, this probably isn’t the book for you. Likewise if you recently enrolled in a Gender Studies program and/or believe that one day, God willing, Caitlyn Jenner will win a Nobel Prize for…something. If you frequently use the words ‘men’ and ‘rape culture’ in the same sentence, if you self-identify according to a particular animal clan, or consider your pets surrogate children, well, there’s the door, please use it.”

The folks in attendance that night were surprisingly receptive to my heresy and in the recording we made you’ll hear lots of laughter and noises of agreement. I was thrilled and very, very relieved.

I know I’ll take some stick for daring poke at some Lefty/liberal causes that many people hold as sacred, inviolable, untouchable. But I also know there is a strong undercurrent among political progressives and contrarians who agree with me and cheer my decision to slay these sacred cows with as much invective and sarcasm as I possibly can.

Here’s a link to that reading, recorded in our home earlier this week. I have quite a bit of spoken word material and ambient music posted over at Bandcamp, all of it available for free listening and downloading. Please, tuck in.

I welcome your responses, whether you agree with me or not.

We need to have this discussion. The Left has no hope of defeating the entrenched interests opposing us unless we act in a unified, cohesive manner, refusing to allow ourselves to be hijacked by special interest groups and a tiny, vocal minority who eschew Big Ticket issues (income inequality, poverty, hunger) in favor of identity, gender politics, etc.

Stop the atomization and division and come together in one massive plurality of those who demand fairness and equality for ALL.

It really is our only hope of slowing down or, at least, humanizing the capitalist juggernaut bearing down on us, the horrible future it portends.

  • Special thanks to my pal, Laird Brittin, who bravely agreed to open the evening with some of his new, original songs. He set the tone early, warmed up the crowd and, oh, yeah, played a helluva set. A true and valued friend…

Presenting “Mouth: Rants & Routines” (cover art)

I’ve been promising a preview of the cover of my collection of political and personal rants and here it is.

My wife Sherron provided the original cover art and also handled the design.

Mouth will be released initially as an ebook and we’ll see what happens from there.

It is a harsh, unrelenting depiction of our narcissistic, superficial culture, a breath of fresh air for those who are fed up with a society narrow-focussed on the trivial, while the rest of the world burns.

Anticipating a publication date of April 30th, but I will be posting excerpts between now and then, a few teasers to whet your appetite.

Stay tuned.

"Mouth":Final cover.png

You want “audible” books, try mine

Audible Books seems to be doing all right these days, adding a few more pennies to the vast coffers of Amazon.

Feeling a bit chagrined for patronizing a site owned by one of the mega-companies that are gradually taking over the world? Reluctant to add to Jeff Bezos’ ballooning net worth?

Well, allow me to offer an alternative.

I have recorded a substantial amount of my body of work and posted it either on here on my blog or over at my Bandcamp page.

I charge absolutely nothing for these recordings, even though I devote a lot of time, energy and creativity putting them together. There’s accompanying music, sound effects…and the short stories and novel excerpts I feature are a good bit more original, entertaining and literate than many, if not most, of the offerings you’ll find with my corporate counterpart. That I guarantee.

A word to the wise, however: my recorded prose may well be a gateway drug to the rest of my oeuvre. Once you get drawn in, you may find it impossible to stop, unable to resist immersing yourself in my dark, demented visions. Allow me to indulge in a maniacal chuckle as I imagine you downloading an MP3 of a tale like “Daughter” or “Walt Disney in Hell”, with no idea of what you’re getting yourself into, the rabbit hole you’ve tumbled down.

My writing will definitely liven up a long car trip, I’ll tell you that.

Try some of it on for size, see if it fits.

What do you have to lose?

Except a few preconceptions and maybe one or two nights of sleep.