Little Red Flags

Right now Google Fiber contractors are digging a hole in the front yard. Little red, yellow and blue flags dot the neighborhood, marking gas lines and dig sites. Tree limbs are truncated to make way for new telephone polls installed by convoys of trucks with generic sounding company names on the side. My midnight bike rides are interrupted by men standing around drilling holes in the sidewalk, surrounded by flood lights and orange traffic barriers. The irony of Google Fiber’s rainbow bunny mascot is the installation work has scared all the neighborhood’s actual rabbits into flight. During my evening stroll I see entire warrens on the move. It is what it is, even if we mostly use that expression to mean I’d rather it were something else. I hope it’s not being too dramatic to say the whole Snowden thing threw a little cold water on the Fiber project for me. By tracking your digital breadcrumbs and analyzing your text messages and email drafts as you write them, Snowden alleges, the NSA can see into your thought process and analyze your “pattern of life.” This all sounds paranoid, the kind of thinking most often associated with drugs, secrecy or treason. But as these guys point out, “These days you don’t need drugs to be paranoid. You can just be paranoid and be totally correct.” So the Web and telecom networks secretly turn over data to the government — not a big surprise. But do we really want them burrowing directly into our homes? I guess it depends on what you’re willing to give up to be able to digitally record eight TV shows at once.

A Valediction Forbidding E-Cigs

aka “Red Says We’re Too Old For This Shit”

punk rock kids still smoke real cigs they flick the light they breathe the smoke and tilt their heads back when they blow big clouds and jets and streams and plumes and tap their feet to three chord songs they smoke their cigs and bob their heads and shake their hair from side to side their clothes are black and old but fine to look at in the light of amps and bulbs in rooms with floors of wood and crowds of kids and chairs where you can sit and smoke some more if you run out just ask a friend if you can bum one more the kids all shout play one more song and turn it up my cig’s still lit and I’m still young

What The Left Hand is Doing

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by Lucas Wetzel and Robert Josiah Bingaman, 2014

“For several months in 2013, I lost the use of my right hand. I soon began learning to write with my left hand, attempting to form shapes and then letters on a child’s wide-ruled tablet. As I concentrated on the spacing and alignment of each character, the words and sentences took on a life of their own, straying into realms of childhood innocence, surrealism, humor, mythology, and loss … After I read a few of these pages out loud to my friend Robert Bingaman, an accomplished painter, he set a similar challenge for himself of drawing, and then painting, with his left hand … By creating new neural pathways and/or tapping into our ‘right brains,’ we found we’d opened a shortcut to a reservoir of imagination and wonder we hadn’t realized was still accessible.”  — excerpt from the introduction

The result of this experiment is “What The Left Hand is Doing,” a 28-page book that presents the writing and artwork in tandem, with high-quality, full-color facsimiles of the writer’s notebook entries and the artist’s sketches and paintings.

A limited run of the book has been printed and is available now for $10, shipping included. Please use the PayPal button below or contact the author for more information.

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Mississippi Blockbuster Blues

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Chris was one of the most interesting people I met during my month in Mississippi. He showed up the day before our fireworks stand opened, asking about work. He helped out at the carnival that set up in town every summer, he said, but they usually stiffed him, paying him only $20 for two full days of hauling stuff around. Sears and I told him we weren’t taking on any extra employees, but that didn’t stop him from coming by and talking with us almost every day. Being in Mississippi and all, it would be tempting to refer to Chris in Faulknerian terms, but a more polite description would be to say he was simpleminded.

Chris wore the same over-sized orange t-shirt every time I saw him, and had a bowl cut with long bangs he would constantly shake out of his face. He could have been 27 or 41 — it was impossible to tell. His mom was a morbidly obese lady who sat in a window booth at the Subway for hours on end, smiling at everyone who passed by. I think she appreciated that we were kind to her son, even playing frisbee with him one windy afternoon in the parking lot of the strip mall where our tent was set up. Chris had never played frisbee before, but he had a pretty good arm, even though the wind gave him trouble. We went from being initially wary to looking forward to his visits, and if they occurred late enough that we already had a good beer buzz going, we’d yell his name in unison as he approached. When we did that he’d just scrunch up his face and look at us like we were crazy.

The one thing we could count on each time we saw Chris was that he would tell us about his “plan.” The “plan” involved emptying out the large cake fireworks we had for sale and using them to blow up a port-a-potty. There were little variations in the logistics each time he told us about it, but every single one resulted in an exploding toilet. Eventually I used my primitive Nokia phone to record our conversation, for posterity’s sake (and, I suppose, as potential criminal evidence should anyone in Wayne County meet an untimely end that brutally hot summer).

When I recorded Chris’s story, however, something unexpected happened. After discussing the details of the toilet-bomb (along with a curious, rather alarming warning to “never smoke”), he launched into an impromptu and surprisingly serious elegy for the nearby Movie Gallery, which the Blockbuster Video corporation was “fixin’ to get.” Naturally, I found it amazing that there were still places in America in mid-2010 where Blockbuster was still opening new stores.

Of course, that was three and a half years ago, and by now even the Waynesboro Blockbuster appears to have closed, as has the one in Westport, Missouri, that I grew up going to (brilliantly photographed above by Robert Josiah).

I haven’t gone back to Waynesboro since 2011, and I don’t know that I ever will. If you do happen to visit, be sure to try both kinds of potato salad at the Huff-N-Puff Smokehouse. And if you need a WiFi hookup or clean bathroom, the Waynesboro McDonalds is one of the nicest I’ve ever seen (the previous McDonalds having burned down several years earlier). But for Chrissakes, whatever you do, don’t go anywhere near them pretty potties.

24 Things I Did Today

Today, at the Kansas City Library, I met a man who tried to sell me a piece of meteorite. At least that’s what he said it was. It was small and black; obsidian-like with fragments of what looked like petrified bubble bath. Do you collect meteorites? I asked him. He said yeah, I’m kind of a stargazer. He said he didn’t know if you could like sell them or not. I don’t know, I said, though I wished I had a few dollars to give him for it just so I could say I bought a meteorite from a soft-spoken dude at the library wearing earbuds and a basketball jersey. Instead I just said “keep stargazing” as he walked away, waved and smiled.

Today I read comic strips and horoscopes.

Today I ran until I was tired.

Today I drove home through the mists of Lee Blvd. listening to the prelude to Tristan and Isolde.

Today I called my wife on her parent’s landline and asked her what the homework assignment was. Her dad answered and it took a minute for her to come to the phone. When we started talking I remembered how less clear landlines are. How you have to really listen.

Today I tried to help a friend decide whether or not he and his family should buy a new home.

Today I emailed a stranger and wound up having coffee with an old friend. We talked ever so briefly about the last days of Schumann in beautiful Bonn-Endenich, which we’d both visited, though in different eras.

Today I ate some food, namely a ham and pepper jack sandwich on french bread with a side of red hot blues. I still have a bag of Haribo Smurfs open, but they gum up my insides.

Today, while marveling at the weight of a friend’s accidentally disembodied Aurelien Collin bobblehead, I remembered one of the most impressive and (perhaps understandably) overlooked moments in the career of the White Puma — being struck by an Omar Bravo bobblehead head thrown by a miscreant in the home stands. The projectile cut a gash above the KC keeper’s eye, but he patched things up and finished out the game, a 3-1 win over the Portland Timbers.

Today I found out someone had been talking shit. For a few moments, I thought about getting angry. This is the kind of thing people get angry over. Confront people about. But what good is it to read Marcus Aurelius paperbacks if you can’t take a few knocks, especially from folks who actually know you, folks who might even be right. Though maybe they only have part of the story, or aren’t entirely sympatico. How many times have you thought you had someone figured out only to realize, you don’t know their story. You don’t know their story at all.

Today, 16 years ago, it was my high school girlfriend’s and my first date. OK Computer had just come out a few months before and we listened to it a lot that winter, driving long distances across the metro to find cool places to drink coffee.

Today I looked at a half-collapsed stack of old notebooks and asked myself how much I really need my old words. Won’t the ones still living rise up unbidden at the needed moment, just as soon as the daydream wears on?

Today I resolved to tell my friend not to be so hard on himself. I’m only one grade older and because of that always think I should be able to give advice. But I can’t, really. All I can truthfully say is I’m confident you’ll figure it out. I’ll help however I can.

Today I got a save-the-date postcard from my brother and his fiancée. Over pizza, my grandfather explained the difference between a fiancé and a fiancée, though I think he might be wrong about pronouncing them differently.

Today I jumped over piles of snow on the curbside while crossing the downtown bus depot hobocluster. The fountain isn’t running but the buses are all more or less on time, which is to say, not really.

Today I can still think of half a dozen emails I need to write, not that I’m super important or anything like that, just always a tiny bit behind the beat when it comes to being in touch with friends, family and colleagues. I try to keep this in mind when waiting for my own unrequited emails to be returned, but the more time passes, the more I begin seeing them as badminton birdies that have flown far out of bounds and are now lapping in the surf at the nearest beach.

Today I need to go to bed because it isn’t today anymore, but my wife and child are away and I want to listen to music and type until I pass out on the couch. I put hot water on for tea half an hour ago and my friend’s soundcoud has long since passed aurally overhead, but I’m still locked to the keyboard.

Today I’m writing to tell you I might not see you for a while, or at least I won’t be making any appearances here anytime soon, and why should I? There are so many lists to look at; so many books to read. I’ve got projects to work on and people to see.

Today I drove down a street that said No Outlet but actually there was one.

Today I plugged in the Christmas Lights a final time.

Today I contemplated staying up all night, then quickly decided against it.

Today I tried hard to find the post-it note I mentally wrote to myself before I last fell asleep. They can’t always be recovered, but sometimes I get them to stick.

Today I wrote a poem by convincing myself I was just writing a list of what happened today. Though whether it’s actually a poem probably depends more on the reader.

Tonight I’m writing to let you know I’ll keep trying as long as you keep reading. It’s foggy out there, but that won’t stop me from signaling.

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Rather than post one of those confessional essays about why I’m quitting Facebook (which would probably only last a short while), I chopped up my notes and turned them into the poem above. I don’t have any grand points to make about society or modern communication, but I wanted to somehow give voice to the general social media anxiety I’ve been feeling lately.