Posts from — February 2010
My Few Experiences of Mountains
… The most powerful human emotion is fear, which is what I felt tightening inside of me from the base of my spine to the roots of my teeth as I drove …
I know I shouldn’t count driving through mountains because that’s not really experiencing them, at least not in that feet-on-the-ground, nose-to-the-wind kind of way, but years ago those wild Kerouacian embers of cross-country road-trips were still glimmering like poetry in my brain. I was driving west on I-84 through the Columbia River Gorge toward Portland to visit a relocated friend—all my cool Louisville friends were moving to Portland back then for its music scene—and I think I had what you’d call a real experience of the mountains in my old-but-new-to-me Volvo station wagon. I don’t remember where exactly on 84 we were—my then-girlfriend Tara was dozing beside me in the passenger seat—but I do recall a steep, winding ascent from the oranges and browns of the high desert and the equally steep descent into the lusty green of the Oregon rainforest.
I think I’m making some of this up, or my memory has smoothed out the edges, as memory tends to do. It’s not like you’re in the desert and then BOOM! you’re in the rainforest. Or maybe it is like that. It’s been awhile. And I haven’t been back since.
The experience I had wasn’t of the mountains themselves. It was inside me. (But then, where do we experience experiences if not inside ourselves?) I’ve heard some otherwise intelligent people claim that love is the most powerful human emotion, but that’s a bunch of sentimental nonsense. The most powerful human emotion is fear, which is what I felt tightening inside of me from the base of my spine to the roots of my teeth as I drove through these mountains, where the North American Plate meets the Pacific and Juan de Fuca Plates. These were the Cascades. What a lovely name for mountains, derived (ultimately) from the Latin cadere: to fall. And that’s what I feared, falling, and dying, as I climbed and climbed and climbed. My bad dreams have always involved falling from some height, veering off into a black void, losing my grip, plummeting. It’s a beautiful kind of fear, though. Maybe back then it was akin to the still-fierce grip of love I had for Tara. Maybe love compelled me to face my fear in the first place, bid me drive on, go west, young man! be on the road in love! Maybe love is more powerful than fear.
You think about mountains and you see a single thing in your mind, a discrete unit called “mountain.” This is how you learn what a mountain is. You draw a triangle with a zig-zag line near the tip to represent the snow line. You think Everest. You think Vesuvius and Rainier, both of which are volcanoes, too, but that’s a different drawing. You think a mountain is like a volcano without a hole in the top. You draw some puffy clouds and a few birds, maybe a semi-circle sun in the corner with straight-line rays beaming down. You think you have a handle on what a mountain is, but you don’t—any more than you have a handle on what love is by drawing hearts.
I thought I understood something about Pine Mountain from the stories my grandpa would tell of growing up in Jenkins, Kentucky, a dusty little former coal-camp town on the Virginia border. Pine Mountain was where people hid their moonshine stills. Pine Mountain was where the outlaw-hero Devil John Wright lived. Pine Mountain was where my grandpa went as a kid to teach himself to play guitar, like some Pentecostal mountaintop guru communing with the God of the Lonesome Pine. Pine Mountain was also the location of Raven Rock, a locally famous overlook point, where you could take in all of Jenkins below. I’ve only been to Jenkins a handful of times. A few years ago I went there to have an authentic experience of Pine Mountain so that I could write about that experience and then possibly publish what I’d written. But that kind of thing hardly ever works out. Or you end up writing fiction or poetry and wishing it was what you’d actually experienced.
I’d seen pictures from the 1920s of men gathered on Raven Rock smoking pipes in their Sunday best and posing for group portraits, and I’d read so many references to it in the town library’s archive. I knew it was a single thing, a distinct place called “Raven Rock.” You could plant a flag and point to it and say you were there. But when I stumbled through the trees onto what I assumed was Raven Rock, I wasn’t sure. The view was breathtaking, but not in a beautiful way. From this rock ledge you could see the long narrow valley that was Jenkins, Elkhorn Lake to the southwest, the new golf course to the north, but you could also see all the strip-mining going on around you, what some call “mountaintop removal.” You could see big patches of white and brown where there should be green, and plumes of gray smoke rising in every direction, like a bunch of little bomb sites, which they are in a way.
Raven Rock is what you’d call a “crag.” I’ve always loved that word. I’m not sure if it’s an actual geological term because I associate it with Romantic poetry. Like Wordsworth’s “narrow girdle of rough stones and crags” or Byron’s “crag-cover’d wild” or Keats’ “Crag jutting forth to crag, and rocks that seem’d / Ever as if just rising from a sleep.” It’s a rigid and insistent word. It sounds like one of those nonsense rhymes you invent as a kid while running through the alphabet: vag, spag, frag, crag. The word “crag,” and not crags themselves, may be one of the reasons I became a poet. I like Williams’ famous axiom, “No ideas but in things,” but for me it’s “No ideas and no things but in words.” Or even, “No ideas, no things, no words but in sounds.”
I scooted to the edge of this crag, this Raven Rock, and peered down the side at the tops of trees. That old familiar fear tickled inside. I stood there alone with my fear for a few moments. If I fell, no one would know, no one could help me, and I’d probably die, so I backed off and sat cross-legged to smoke a cigarette. I wasn’t having the experience I’d hoped for. For one, I was hungry and felt stupid for not eating lunch. It was already late in the afternoon, and I was running on coffee and cigarettes. I was also not dressed for any kind of climbing or hiking in my dress shoes and khaki pants and camelhair sports coat. I was supposed to have interviewed the mayor earlier in the day about the history of Jenkins for my writing project, but he wasn’t in, so I stupidly went tramping up some old logging road toward what I hoped would be Raven Rock and a real experience of Pine Mountain. But now I couldn’t tell where Raven Rock began and where it ended. The ledge, the crag, just kept going in either direction. Here I am sitting in the “crag-cover’d wild,” not sure if it’s the right crag or some other crag, and all I can think is how much I’d like a grilled cheese sandwich with a pickle. All I can think is, “Jesus, these shoes. These shoes are absolutely ridiculous.”
I wished I could look around me and name the names of all the plants and geological formations around me. I’d write a poem. I’d savor words like escarpment, chokecherry, kudzu, white pine. That would’ve given me some comfort, I think. I followed the crag southwest looking for its end, but Raven Rock just kept going. I backtracked and followed it northeast, but it still kept going. Sometimes I had to leap across gaps in the crag. Sometimes I had to duck back into the trees—were they white pines?—before I emerged again onto the rock. Eventually I found a shallow cave, but it wasn’t what you think of when you say “cave.” I want to call it a gully, but that’s not right. And neither is gulch, but both are good-sounding words. The cave was a big black V etched into the side of the mountain, a pitched rift in the rock that I had to clamber down about twenty feet to enter. I was surprised not to find trash or graffiti or a blackened circle of ash from an old campfire because you always find that kind of thing in caves like this. It was a perfect place for teenagers to get drunk or high or have sex. But all I found there was a big sleeping box turtle. Had I been on some kind of vision quest, or if I were the kind of person who looked for omens or signs from above, I might have attached some kind of personal significance to the turtle, but it was just a turtle. I patted the turtle shell, and it didn’t do anything. That was good enough for me.
Not surprisingly, I almost fell while climbing up out of the cave. There was a moment when I knew I would have to let go of one hold to lunge at the roots of a bush—maybe it was a chokecherry?—so I could pull myself up. I thought about that line in The Dharma Bums when the narrator realizes that “it’s impossible to fall off mountains.” I beg to differ. It may have been like cool wild jazz or an angelheaded epiphany for Kerouac bounding down some mountain or other in the Sierra Nevada. But neither jazz nor epiphanies will keep you from smashing your skull on the rocks below, or breaking your leg at least. And then what? Then you’re helpless and hungry with only this completely indifferent turtle to keep you company as you writhe in pain and die alone. I became seized with a quick terror, clinging desperate and frozen to the rock. Maybe all my dreams of falling had been prophetic after all. I was experiencing what you would call “panic,” another lovely word, meaning “pertaining to Pan,” the Greek god of, among other things, mountain wilds. What broke the panic was my own sudden, uncontrollable, and ridiculous laughter. Then Pan loosened his grip inside me, I let go, lunged, and pulled myself up, skull intact. For the Greeks, Pan may have been the erotic half-man-half-goat god of mountain wilds blowing on his pipes. But to me Pan is cool indifference. He’s all turtle.
Here’s the thing. I didn’t have an epiphany on Pine Mountain, and the experience hardly qualifies me as a naturalist or outdoorsman, much less a “nature writer,” whatever that means. As much as I might admire them, I’m no Barry Lopez, I’m no Aldo Leopold, I’m not even Bear Grylls. I’m too much in my head all the time, thinking, wanting to know the names of things, what they mean, and what might rhyme with kudzu. What I did come to understand, at last, up there on the mountain was that there’s really no such thing as “Raven Rock” because it goes on and on and on, one long crag of cresting and receding limestone that runs the length of the entire mountain. Maybe it juts out more or less here or there. Maybe it disappears into the earth in one place before popping back out in the other. But Raven Rock is Pine Mountain. And Pine Mountain is the Appalachians. And the Appalachians are…Well, you get the point.
I’ve spent time among other mountains: the Devil’s Path range in the Catskills, some of the Adirondacks, the Berkshires, the Endless Mountains in northeast Pennsylvania. And I could imagine them connected to Raven Rock. But now I live far from the promise of foothill and crag in the vast windy recline of northeast Iowa, in what Michael Martone calls “the flatness,” or more familiarly “the flyover.” People back east ask me how I like it here, and I say it’s all corn and soy and pigs, but it’s also an easy place to live, by which I mean the cost of living, the friendliness of the people, its relatively progressive politics, and other “quality of life” indicators. I think I also mean that Iowa isn’t a fearful place. Sure, we have blizzard, drought, tornado, flood, but there’s no place to fall from, no place to lose your grip, not really. We see things coming, we brace ourselves, we get ready. Iowa is a place untroubled by mountain wilds, where no one seems to panic and it’s easy to be in love, where the deep quiet at night is only matched by how calm and far away the horizon convenes with its sky.
J.D. Schraffenberger is the assistant editor of the North American Review and the author of a book of poems, Saint Joe’s Passion (Etruscan 2008). His other work appears in Best Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, DIAGRAM, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Mid-American Review, Notre Dame Review, Poet Lore, and elsewhere. He is an assistant professor of English at the University of Northern Iowa and is currently at work on a book-length study of the Iowa farmer-poet James Hearst.
The Litchfields — Lynda Barreto
February 20, 2010 Comments Off on J.D. Schraffenberger
Thoughts on my work…
This series is made up of older work along with new work. My biggest challenge was to give a cohesive “feel” and “look” to the entire series of 28 images. The originals were a combination of black & white film, color film, Polaroid prints, Polaroid SX-70, 8×10 Polaroid image transfers, digital photographs, and chromes of different formats. No plug ins or presets were used. Each image was treated as an individual image with layering of textures, burning, dodging, hue and saturation adjustments.
The name SLEEP WALKING was arrived at after the series was completed, because that’s the way it made me feel.
-David Aschkenas, Pittsburgh, Pa., 2010
David Aschkenas is recognized as a fine art photographer and is a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts grant. A freelance photographer for 30 years, he is doing Annual Reports, Advertising, and Editorial photography for clients worldwide. His photographs are represented in the Polaroid Collection, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pa., Minneapolis Inst. of the Arts, Bayer Corp., University of Alaska Art Museum, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Howard Heinz Endowment, and many private collections. His work has been exhibited at The Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pa., Kim Foster Gallery, NYC, Moore College of Art, Phila. Pa., Allentown Art Museum, Southern Alleghenies Art Museum, Friends of Photography, Carmel, Ca., Mendelson Gallery, Pittsburgh, Pa., Clarence Kennedy Gallery, Polaroid Corp. and many others.
February 20, 2010 Comments Off on David Aschkenas
Dodging the limelight
Though drawing and painting have been my passion from a very early age, photography has always fascinated me, too. Taking photos allowed me to remember much more of the places I went, the people I knew. It never did evolve beyond the taking of snapshots though, mainly because I spent all my time and efforts in drawing and painting. But a couple of years ago, I gradually started to take it more seriously. I started to get addicted to going to old abandoned buildings and photographing them. I also looked at thousands of photos taken by other people and each day I raised the bar a little for myself.
Frankly, I don’t really care about stuff like the rule of thirds, or any other technical do’s and don’ts. I don’t think when I photograph, but I look. And when what I see feels right, I press the shutter. So I guess you could say I am an emotional photographer, haha. I am not easily satisfied with what I create.
Beside derelict buildings, I really like animals too. They are unpredictable and fickle, but that makes getting a good shot even more rewarding. I hope I can capture a bit of their personality. It bewilders people when you take both cute cat photos and scary dirty deserted rooms. I think most people want an artist to repeat the same thing over and over again, in a slightly different jacket, and looking around, I feel most popular artists give these people what they want. But there’s too much of interest in life to focus on just one thing. And life’s too short – so I will keep dodging the limelight.
-Ineke Kamps, Holland, 2010
If you’re real quiet you can hear them
Closet ghost having a rest
Drink Me II
The girl has come undone
Ineke was born in 1972 in the south of Holland and studied illustration design. She exhibited her photographs and paintings throughout her native Netherlands and in Belgium and Germany. “I generally am just unprofitable and maladjusted without prospect of cure,” she says. To see additional photographs and her paintings, visit: http://www.inekekamps.nl, and you can email her at: email@example.com
February 20, 2010 1 Comment
“It Might Get Loud” Doesn’t
When I saw that Davis Guggenheim, the director of An Inconvenient Truth, was also the man behind the rockumentary It Might Get Loud, an immediate sense of dread came over me. I’m not saying I don’t believe in global warming, or that I don’t wish Al Gore had been President for the first eight years of the decade, I’m just saying that An Inconvenient Truth is boring as fuck and has the same dramatic pull as the lectures I slept through in college.
The problem with the Gore flick is the problem I have with the guitar god story of It Might Get Loud, but, hey, I’m not ragazine’s film critic, I’m the music editor, so on to my supposed field of expertise.
Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White are the three lords of the six-string chosen to represent their respective generations and, according to producer Lesley Chilcott, these were the top choices. Really? Jimmy Page over Eric Clapton? You sure about that, Lesley? Now let’s be clear, everyone is going to choose based on their own taste, but The Jeff Beck Group invented the Led Zeppelin sound a full year before Zep’s debut and Rod Stewart is an infinitely better singer than Robert Plant. Page didn’t discover anything.
I’ve always had a hard time with Zeppelin’s iconic status because of that, but I played along with the conceit that Page is the jumping off point. I’m glad I did, because Jimmy comes across as the most real of the lot. Page, with his long gray hair, sure looks the part of a Founding Father, although when he rolls it up in a bun a thinner Mrs. Doubtfire comes to mind.
Page has an ease of position the others don’t share. Walking through the manse at Headley Grange and casually explaining how Zeppelin’s fourth album was recorded comes across as a tour of Buckingham Palace with the Queen as your guide. Page is royalty, no doubt.
Years ago I enrolled in The Bloom School of Jazz in Chicago. I was new to the alto sax and wanted to play jazz, which I knew well. What I learned there was that effective solos can be broken down into simple categories: dynamic range, tempo changes and rhythmic variety. With my limited skills, I was able to create quality music. Page, even with his obvious virtuosity, still keeps it down to those basics. His playing of “Ramble On” is a powerhouse of volume shifts with no special effects. One of the two highlights in the movie is Page placing Link Wray’s 45 of “Rumble” on the turntable and bursting into a big smile and laugh as he air guitars to Wray’s vibrato. It’s a joy to behold Page in heaven.
It’s easy for me to quibble over the Page choice, less so about The Edge. In this scattered music culture we live in, U2 may be the last big band. Or, as Springsteen says, at least the last band whose members we can all name. Now, I also have my problems with U2, but I understand their place. They are the big dogs in town and have been for nearly three decades. To my ears, Bono is too histrionic, always a bit too much to take, and, yet, even with his over-the-top wailing, U2’s music is light on the soul, heavy on the machinery.
The Edge makes no bones about that. He is an effects wizard, his signature sound the result of simple riffs all teched out. He clearly ponders where the guitar stops and the technology picks up. A little “emperors’ new clothes”, to be sure. Even when he explains how he plays an E chord with fewer notes than normal, I was struck less by innovation than with gimmickry. And when his panel of effects is shown in detail, that he taps until he gets to the correct programmed sounds for each song, it’s so odd and distancing, a veritable lip synch of guitar.
When The Edge talks about the daily bombing during the “Troubles” in 1970’s Northern Ireland where he grew up, I wondered if the horrors of that existence didn’t result in a defensive pullback of emotions that seem to define his personality and playing. Though he speaks of how punk bands like The Jam and The Clash changed his life, those bands had a passion and fury in their music that U2 lacks. Even when he plays The Ramones’ “Glad to See You Go,” it lacks a certain intensity.
Recalling the punk scene, The Edge aligns himself with the movement’s rejection of the self-indulgence of mid-1970’s rock (The Edgar Winter Group is submitted as evidence, and, by implication, so is Led Zeppelin and Page). You gotta be shittin’ me! The Edge condemns self-indulgence! Has there ever been a more pompously self-important, holier than thou band than U2? Please. When The Edge plays a demo cassette of an early 4- track recording of “Where the Streets Have No Name,” it leaves me unaffected. The segue to a giant concert where the band play a full blown version is supposed to show how that little tape became this legendary song. Yeah, I guess.
Jack White is the upstart, the novice who hopes he can trick the older guys into teaching him a thing or two. What’s clear is that White is the link to Page, and The Edge is the odd man out. Jack connects with Jimmy: the blues of Zeppelin and the blues of The White Stripes are one. Say what you will, but there are no signs of the blues in U2.
White tries the hardest to earn his place, talking a lot of juvenile trash. “Technology is a big destroyer of truth.” Hmmm. “Ease of use is a disease you have to fight.” OK. His repudiation of The Edge’s style can be summed up thusly — “so processed [it’s] not real anymore.” Perhaps because of Jack’s youth, he is the subject/victim of the movie’s biggest pretension, that of driving his 9-year-old self around and explaining to little Jack all the things he’s learned. That doesn’t work at all. What does work is Jack building a guitar with hammer and nails, using a board, a wire and a coke bottle. Watch those hands! When he plugs in and plays, surrounded by a scene from the cover of Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother, it’s a small miracle.
The movie does a fine job telling the individual stories of the trio, but where it fails, where the opportunity is missed, is in the relatively sparse time devoted to the three together on set. For everything I said before about U2, when Page, The Edge and White play “I Will Follow,” it’s way cool. “In My Time of Dying” is a slide guitar-fest that kicks ass. Though Jack was looking to be taught, he has a lot to impart. As he steals the song, they all laugh.
The single greatest shot occurs when Page, alone, tears into “Whole Lotta Love.” The looks on the faces of the other two are a mixture of awe and true love. Whether that adoration is for the song, the riff, Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page, or the power of the instrument, I don’t know. My guess is all of the above.
The bonus materials give more of what I hungered for. The Edge inquires about “Kashmir” and Jimmy shows the tuning he played around with. I’m no expert on Zeppelin, so it was news to me that the “Kashmir” riff shows up at the end of “Swan Song,” an outtake. The two observe Page, but not with the same joy as in “Whole Lotta Love.” It’s not that sort of song, but still fun to hear.
There’s some serious shop talk as The Edge asks what strings everyone uses. Page makes it interesting, explaining the use of banjo strings back in the day because British strings were notoriously thick and hard to bend. Page asks White about “Seven Nation Army,” when Jack says a pal of his thought the riff was just OK, The Edge laughs. Ol’ Edge is more open and engaging in these bits. I have to tell you when the three play The White Stripes’ classic, it stands up with any song in all their catalogs combined. “That’ll be five dollars,” says Jack, when done giving his lesson.
What’s missing from the body of the film is this group dynamic. What did they think of each other, how did they influence each other? Again, in the bonus materials, The Edge tells a story of a classical guitar teacher in school asking him if The Edge-ling could teach him “Stairway to Heaven” so he can instruct the kids, all of whom wanted to learn the song. I would like to have seen more interplay and conversation.
The Edge comments that every time it seems that the guitar is at an end as the primary instrument in pop/rock, it flares up again. Why does it endure? He doesn’t know. I do. People pick up guitars and learn to play and they all believe that, with a break or two, they’ll be Jimmy Page, king of the world, or The Edge, escaping from a little school surrounded by explosions, or Jack White, leaving his poor Mexican neighborhood in Detroit and breaking big. Then, all of a sudden, you got the dough and the booze and the drugs and the chicks and everything is cool.
February 20, 2010 Comments Off on Jeff Katz
Giving a Hand, Not a Handout
From “The Iraqi Seed Project” Newsletter, Vol. 1
Background: Iraq and the Fertile Crescent are often referred to as the birthplace of agriculture. Crops such as wheat, barley, lentils and chickpeas were first cultivated there over 7,000 years ago. After years of war, sanctions and environmental degradation many Iraqi farmers are now struggling to feed their families. Today Iraq imports much of its food supply. Wheat, which originated in the region, is now imported from the United States and Australia, and Iraq is now one of the fastest growing markets for US agricultural exports.
The Iraqi Seed Project seeks to document the daily reality of farmers on the ground and to honor the rich history of farming in the Fertile Crescent. The hope is to connect Iraqi farmers and agricultural policy makers to counterparts abroad who are working to promote crop diversity and environmentally sustainable growing practices.
The Iraqi Seed Project will consist of a short film, interactive website and real life exchange; it is intended as a creative work as well as useful resource to those working in the field. The project currently is in pre-production, with plans to begin filming early this spring.
• The film explores daily life on an Iraqi farm • The website shares research in the form of video interviews, essays, articles, and discussions related to the history and current realities of farming in Iraq • The exchange – part of The Iraqi Seed Project’s mission is to facilitate a real life exchange between farmers in Iraq and farmers abroad. Seed swaps, workshops and correspondence are just some of the intended ways to accomplish this.
February 20, 2010 Comments Off on Iraqi Seed Project
The River Ganges
When the shock of his death began to peel away
and we stopped leaning on walls to steady ourselves
the family told me to throw out the mattress.
Death is a stain you can’t wash off
it’s best to send it away before it latches onto you.
In my eyes it was a perfectly good mattress.
So it stayed.
The family lit candles and said let them burn to light the way.
I couldn’t sleep.
The roar of the flickering flame consumed me two floors up.
So I blew it out.
When the urn arrived filled with bits and pieces
there were no pictures of him.
So we propped up his driver’s license and
wrapped everything in a yard of gauzy red fabric.
That was our shrine
in the room where the walls smelled of loose tobacco
and Tiger Balm.
Each day on the way to the laundry
I’d find the lamp on in his room.
It’s the kind that turns on with the slightest
brush of a hand.
It was a comfort to know he was still there.
Then the day came for his trip to the Ganges
and the room stood dark.
I did everything wrong and still he left.
Jessica Dubey lives with her family in the Southern Tier of New York, where she writes and studies poetry. She is a graduate of Syracuse University and has written freelance for marketing and healthcare.
February 20, 2010 Comments Off on Jessica Dubey
The Wrong Season for Survival
Greg Roberts stands behind me with the barrel of his Winchester prodding me forward. He leads me into a hollow before a lava-tube cave where I join my cousins, who are being held there. Standing before the mouth of the cave, we look like prisoners of some giant sea conch, captive adolescent boys armed with high-caliber rifles, assembled here to carry out its evil plan. Dave Borup appears in the entrance, at the edge of the camera’s lens. He stands taller than the rest of us. He has a thick chest for his age and a quarterback’s jaw, so he’s in charge. I am being led here for questioning. Things will get ugly. Borup takes me by the collar and jerks me toward him, where he mouths angry questions down at me. I play tough. He’ll never get a word out of me. I’ve been through this before. Do what you will. I won’t crack. Besides, I know my gang lies in waiting. What follows is a bloodbath.
“captain I don’t want to kill another man. he ain’t done nothing to me…”
Such scenes, common in my childhood, appeal to what some adolescent psychologists — at least the one who my 14-year old son visited — claim is an “intrinsic fascination for violence and conflict” present in adolescent males. Prior to having children, I would have – quite often did — dispute such gender distinctions. One boy and two girls later, I’m more in agreement. However, more than my predictable acceptance that boys will be boys, I’m struck by our paradoxical relationship to violence. What I know of violence, really know, I learned the day I had to slaughter a steer named Moonshine. I say “had to,” but that’s not really true. The whole thing left me sick, but the part that’s really hard to stomach is that I think I really wanted to do it, wanted the act to validate me, serve as a kind of rite of passage, i.e., killing will make me a man. So, if that’s true, who taught me this? I could say television or my father or the movies etcetera, but that would only partly be true. So what, then? Why did I kill if I really didn’t want to?
Growing up with hunting dogs, I‘ve often wondered about the relationship between hunters and their dogs. Some of the most passionate dog-lovers I know are hunters. So, how is it they come to make killing other animals a similar passion? Conversely, how is it that my own son, who backs away the moment a dog bounds toward him—pockets his hands rather than reach to stroke its muzzle — finds the thought of hunting/killing another animal totally repulsive? How is it that when I was 12 I begged my mom to let me sleep in the garage with our Brittany Spaniel, Mando, who had her litter out there, yet in the same year wanted nothing more than to kill a deer, skin and tan its hide, then have my grandmother fashion a hunting vest out of it ?
To expand, how is it that in the 6th grade I’m moved to tears at the sight of the new kid sitting alone in the cafeteria eating his sad hamburger, but won’t think twice about killing a fellow creature for meat? What kind of species is this — capable of such grotesque contradictions? Naturally, great thinkers have explored these questions for centuries, so my asking it probably seems tired. Then again, second-rate minds don’t have as many answers, so I’ll keep asking.
suburban arms race
In 1973, my father — already well equipped to hunt anything from small birds to hoofed game — begins collecting a serious cache of weapons. His goal, he claims, is to arm his family — or at least his three boys and maybe a handful of neighborhood kids — and train them to survive in the wild. He brings home handguns and shotguns and high-powered rifles; He buys gun-cases and displays his revolvers and carbines, bolt and lever-action rifles, automatics, pumps, over-and-under barrel shotguns, even a muzzle-loader. He brings home a thirty-ought-six for Robert since, at 15, he is the oldest and can handle its kick.
He brings home twin 30-30 Winchesters for my brother Boz and me. They may not be as powerful as my brother Robert’s gun, but Pop says they’re still big enough to drop a running mule deer at 250 yards. I pick mine up and try to shoulder it. It’s too heavy. I can only hold the barrel up for a few seconds before it dips toward the ground. Pop tells me not to worry, that I’ll grow into it, so I try again. I press the buttstock to my shoulder, hold it steady this time, but I still can’t reach the trigger.
Boxes of ammunition follow. Then scopes and straps and rifle bags. He sets up reloading equipment in the garage — boxes of empty cartridges and primers, bench-top presses, heaps of buckshot and gunpowder stocked in tubes of canvas like sandbags. We look like a regiment of the National Guard, preparing to shore up the flooded levees and hold off looters in the bargain. When asked where it all comes from, Pop tells us he has a “private dealer,” which we’ve learned means “out of some guy’s trunk in West Oakland.” 
Next comes the fishing gear and the endless supplies of canned and dried foods, and gallon jugs of water, bags of oats and flashlight batteries. When my mother asks him what on earth he’s planning, he sums it up in a word: “Survival.”
Inspired by the naturalist author Euell Gibbons and that famous Grape Nuts commercial, in which he asks, “Ever eat a pine tree?”, my father buys the author’s best-selling Stalking the Wild Asparagus, from which he memorizes the recipes for dozens of edible species. His final inspiration from all this is to take his three sons, my Uncle Rich and his two boys, plus a handful of neighborhood kids into the wilderness for two weeks—without food or their mothers—and teach them to live off the land. He believes it’s his mission in life to expose kids to the wilderness. He says, “Most kids these days don’t get out of their living rooms, away from the boob-tube long enough to even know where their food comes from. Kids today think their food comes out of a can or a box. Now, that’s just nuts.” He begins making this speech regularly at house parties and little-league games. Whenever possible, the talk turns to survival and his planned adventure.
My brothers and I stand next to the outdoor grill on our backyard patio holding shotguns. Pop has us stand in a straight row, like a firing squad, and take turns shooting at anything that flies. Earlier, he loaded “dummy” rounds for us to shoot, so they won’t travel too far, make much noise, or actually hit anything. Robert shoots first. His gun goes pop when he jerks the trigger, and a fuzzy wad flies and then falls well short of a fluttering bluejay. We take turns shooting and reloading for a half hour. When there isn’t anything flying, we just raise our barrels and fire into the open sky. Pop says we need to get the feel of our guns. He walks around us adjusting our stances and hand positions. He doesn’t say a lot. He watches us the way someone assessing thoroughbreds might. But if such a drill being performed next to a backyard basketball hoop makes my father out to be a kind of Great-Santini hardass, I’ve mislead you. Pop is most often described by my 5th-grade friends as “totally mellow,” which is true. He’s not at all the strict, ex-marine type. He had been in the service, the Canadian Air Force allegedly,  but he rarely spoke of it. The only evidence of his service was a framed photo of him in a sort of air-force cap that my mom kept on her nightstand. That said, Pop’s calm direction is more like that of a yoga instructor adjusting postures than that of a drill sergeant.
This isn’t the first wilderness trip we’ve taken. There have been several others, the grandest being our off-road trip across the Baja Peninsula. On that trip, there were 14 of us (4 adults, 10 kids) stuffed into a VW bus, a Willys jeep trailing 3 motorcycles, and a Ford Bronco towing a dune buggy. “Baja,” my father explained at the time, “is the last frontier. It’s like the Wild West was 100 years ago. And we’re going to travel the full 1000 miles without once touching blacktop!”
Today, I would never allow my son to go on any of my father’s adventures. Back then I lived for them. 1974 was a more relaxed time, to be sure. That was before child carseats and bike helmets, when our pregnant mothers drank martinis and chain-smoked Virginia Slims, but I’m still amazed that people who were little more than neighborhood or little-league acquaintances let their kids go with us. Pop’s ability to make people quickly trust him was his gift. I’m still not sure what his motive was. Maybe he really did fear that our friends suffered from some form of what today would be diagnosed as Nature-Deficit Disorder. But, the cynic in me doesn’t completely quite buy this. Pop was too busy running a business and planning trips or taking up hang-gliding or racing hydroplane boats to seriously concern himself with parenting.
Near the beginning of our Baja trip, we spent three days broken down in the border town of Mexicali after the clutch went out in our souped-up VW Microbus. My Uncle Rich and Pop both ran transmission shops, so they could fix anything, anywhere — provided they had the parts, or something out of which to fashion them. Being pre-NAFTA Mexicali, and with no Napa Auto Parts chain in sight, these parts would be a few days. During the three-day waiting period before they arrived, the men, who were busy “fixing” the bus, were rarely seen. The rest of us spent our time either watching Spanish-dubbed episodes of “Kung-Fu” or “Happy Days” in our motel’s lobby, in the bathrooms of our rooms dealing with “Montezuma’s Revenge,” or simply wandering the streets of Mexicali. For some, this was the most memorable part of the trip. And why wouldn’t it be? A Mexican border town in the 70s ranks pretty high on the scale of exotica. To begin with, you could buy anything—fireworks, switchblades, Chinese fighting stars, all sorts of handmade toys and puppets. And food — sweets galore, and chicle, and tamales, roasted fish on a stick. Mike Higgins, who was 15, walked right into a bar and bought a six-pack of Dos Equis, which he drank with Robert. After sharing the beer, they got mugged while trying to buy something (they wouldn’t tell). They lost all their money and the new pair of platform shoes my brother had just bought. Two kids ended up in the emergency room getting stitched up after falling into a construction ditch — or so they claimed. My cousin, Joe (13), spent a night in a holding-cell for stealing a golfcart.
So while the men took their food, drink, and entertainment down at the Mexicali Rose Cantina, where they caught whopping hangovers and god knows what else, we ate all our meals from street-vendors — which left most of us sick for the rest of the trip — and nearly lost fingers playing with our freshly-purchased switchblades and blowing off cherry-bombs. I don’t know if it was a conscious parental strategy or neglect. I suspect the latter, though it taught me a thing or two. I learned how to swing nunchucks like Bruce Lee, and why it’s sometimes important to boil water.
After three days, the men emerged from the cantinas and fixed the clutch. Then they paid the doctors’ bills, bailed out my cousin, and bought us all half-gallon jugs of Milk of Magnesia.
I pull open the top drawer of the tool box and fish out the ratchet. Then I find the socket, snap it on the end of the tool and hand it to Pop. “I don’t understand,” I ask. “Why don’t they join the Boy Scouts then? They do wilderness stuff.”
I’m helping Pop put air shocks on the van and complaining about his inviting half the neighborhood to come with us on our survival trip.
“It’s not the same.”
“The Scouts are okay, but they don’t really fend for themselves,” he says. “Everything’s done for them, you know, and everything’s prepared—food, campsite, firewood. Nothing’s at stake.” He removes the bolt from the upper shock mount and sets it in a red cloth rag.
“Could we really starve to death out there?”
“Naw, we’ll be alright?
“But we could?”
“I suppose. Look, sometimes you need to test your limits, that’s all. This is one of those times. We’re going into the wilderness to test our limits, find out if we can survive.”
I stare up at the van’s undercarriage and think of all the ways I’d rather not be tested, how it might be nice to camp out like the Boy scouts, build fires with twigs and flint, roast marshmallows, sing songs.
“What would that be like?” I say.
“What would what be like?”
“You know, to not have food — to go a long time without it?”
“You mean to starve to death? How should I know?”
“Have you ever been hungry before — I mean starving hungry?”
He takes a slow drag of his Marlboro and looks at me. He doesn’t usually stop in the middle of doing something. He doesn’t usually stop to look at me. It’s awkward, but I like it.
“Yeah,” he says. “I’ve been real hungry before.”
“But you didn’t starve?”
“I’m here aren’t I? Now quit being morbid. Give me that.” I roll that floor-jack over to him, and he pushes it under the bumper. “We’re going to pump this thing up.”
I watch him. He places the jack’s lift plate under the van’s frame and steadies it with one hand. His other hand reaches for the handle of the jack. He begins to pump. All the while he whistles through his teeth. The vehicle rises effortlessly, I think, with such ease.
On the night of our departure, Pop gathers us together to explain our plan. It’s pretty straightforward. We trek into the Modoc wilderness without store-bought food. We’ll be equipped only with camp-gear, guns and ammunition, fishing rigs and the basic cooking utensils. We’ll also each be allowed one canteen of fresh water and a bag of sunflower seeds. We’d load everything into and on top of our modified 1971 VW Campervan; then, we drive to the edge of the wilderness, as far as the dirt roads would take us; from there, we hike deep into this remote area and camp for 10 days; once our vehicle crosses from asphalt to dirt, we will not be allowed to eat or drink anything that we don’t personally gather, pick, trap or kill.
Our California/Nevada wilderness trips always began with a stop in Reno. This trip is no different. In Reno, the men would stuff us with all-you-can-eat buffet food; then leave us parked in the van to sleep it off while they hit the casinos. As soon as the men were out of sight, we’d emerge from the van, head for the streets of Reno and, basically, relive Mexicali. Of course, Reno has casinos, so we run in and out of them sneaking coins in slot machines and finishing half-drunk cocktails. After harassing waitresses and getting chased by casino security guards for a few hours, we’d return to the van and crash as though nothing happened.
I’m awake and sitting in the driver’s seat when the men return from the casino. We are in the parking garage of Harrah’s. My Uncle’s watch, which is always slow, reads 4:00 am. He and my father support the large frame of our neighbor, Mr. Roberts, who is stumbling drunk. He is drunk and he isn’t wearing his glasses. I’ve never before seen him without his glasses. They swing open the van’s double doors and push him in. Sleeping boys groan and wiggle as he clambers over their ankles and slumps his enormous body down, closes his eyes and groans.
My father sits in the driver’s seat and eyes me in the rear view mirror. “You awake, Kid?” I nod. “Get up here, then.” He pats the top of the cooler that rides between the van’s bucket seats. I tiptoe over the sleeping bodies and position myself in front, between my father and uncle.
“Tell us one of your stories, Nephew,” my uncle says. He reaches under his seat for the thermos. “We could use some entertainment to keep us awake.” He twists open the lid of the thermos and fills its handled cup. “Make some noise for us. C’mon.” He takes a sip and grimaces. Then he gives it to me to pass to my father. “Alright, start talking.”
For the next several hours, I stare at the lights cutting through the darkness and, in between fetching fresh beers from the cooler, I talk. I tell them about a dream in which I fall asleep near a river and am swallowed by a snake. At the end of the dream I’m transformed into “my spirit animal,” the snake.
My uncle turns toward me and laughs. “Spirit animal? Is that what you said? How much of that beer you been drinking, Nephew? Give that to me.” He jerks the can from my hand and shakes it to check its weight. “A snake, huh? Is that what they call a wet dream these days?” He laughs again, but I don’t get it. He takes a long drink and empties his can. “So is that like your Indian name, Nephew? What do we call you, Slippery Snake? How about just Snake, Snake-in-the-Grass.”
Pop always drives on these trips cause he doesn’t sleep much. He says that the late-late night hours are special. “It’s when you get to experience what no one else is willing to wait for. That’s when the best discoveries are made,” he says. So I stay up too. I don’t know if I’ve made any discoveries yet, not like a pot of gold or anything, but I like how the road looks in the darkness, how it grows narrow and the terrain more flat and desert-like. Occasionally a pygmy rabbit darts across the blacktop. I count them. It feels like time is standing still, and I don’t want it to start up again. I worry about time passing, the world moving along without me. I feel that I belong here with the men, and want to stay up late with them every night, so I won’t miss out on this. The road seems to form itself before us as we drive, as if our headlights are the source of the land’s formation. Everything beyond our vision is just dead space, frozen time, waiting for our illumination to give it its shape.
Near dawn, we pull onto a dirt road and rattle over a cattle guard. My father pulls the van onto a turnout and shuts down the engine. My uncle snores with his head against his folded hands on the passenger window. Pop tells me to climb in the back and get some shuteye. “We set out in two hours,” he says. “We’ll need a little rest. And take down one of those blankets. It’s getting cold. Look.” He points to the windshield on which fall the first flakes of pre-dawn snow.
A few hours later, Pop’s voice cries out to wake us. I’m shivering. I tried to find a blanket, but with everyone stuffed together and sleeping, I couldn’t get to them. Several of the boys are huddled tight against the carpeted floor trying to get warm. Mr. Roberts lies on his back with his arms spread wide. His large body has forced most of us to seek out the corners of the van. He snores on, while the gangly boys unfold their limbs and stretch themselves awake. When Pop swings the van doors open, they are bolted to life by the image of the land before them—a white open valley blanketed with fresh-fallen snow.
When it comes to smuggled food Pop means business. He makes us unload all the gear, and he gathers the boys in a line with our backpacks and sleeping bags. “Okay,” he says, rubbing his hands together, “Before we set out, we need to check the weight on those packs. No extra crap, got it?” The boys look at each other and smile. Pop starts with my brother Robert’s pack and finds a trove of Lipton’s Instant Soup and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, which Pop dumps in a brown paper bag. My brother eyes me like the snitch I am.
“Now, the sleeping bag and tents,” he says. “Unroll and unpack. Real light and tight. Nothing dangling. We’ll be crossing creeks, and the last thing you’ll want is a wet bag, trust me.” The search of my brother’s sleeping bag elicits dozens of candy bars, a bag of licorice ropes and two canisters of Pringles. By the time he finishes his inspection of our gear, he fills four bags with enough canned and snack food to supply the small, shiftless army we are. None of the other boys will talk to me for the rest of the day. Free of such contraband myself, I stand in a smug posture during Pop’s search of my gear—a search he made only to show that out in the wild there is no such thing as a favorite.
After several failed attempts to wake the sleeping Tom Roberts, he finally succumbs to our badgering and the cold air. He exits the van and wobbles. “Whoa,” he says. “I think I’m still loaded. Are we here or what?” We laugh at him. He then hurries to the other side of the van where he spends several minutes on his knees throwing up on a bush. His sons search for a camera, also laughing. When he finishes, he looks much better, a little cheerful even. “I’m ready,” he says. “If I can survive Reno, I can survive anything. Let’s go!” He puts on his pack, but refuses to carry a gun. Everyone else carries either a rifle or a shotgun. Pop shoulders his deer rifle, a Weatherby 270 Magnum with a power scope. He also wears a belt with a holster that carries a Smith and Wesson 38 Special. After weeks of pestering, Pop has agreed to let me carry the 30-30, even though I can still hardly raise the barrel to shoot. My gun, like those of our entire band of boys, is fully loaded.
jeremiah johnson made his way into the mountains
As a boy I idolize two people: my father and Jeremiah Johnson. In a way, both are characters loosely based on real people — Robert Redford’s Jeremiah is inspired by the legendary mountain man/Crow killer, Liver-Eating Johnson; Pop is a sort of composite character built from an assortment of Hemingway heroes crossed with Steve McQueen. I see them as one in the same, and I even have a poster of Redford’s character in my bedroom. When Jeremiah builds a log cabin with his bare hands, I asked my mother if I can cut down her pine tree in the backyard to build a fort. When he hunts down and kills the Crows who murdered his family, I scan the picket fences of our neighbors’ yards in pursuit of their buck-skin faces. When he makes love to the beautiful Indian squaw after they present one another with fresh kills, I spend a week bent over in the deep grass of the surrounding fields stalking quail with a slingshot.
Ironically, when I stare at my own face in the mirror I ignore its Indian features—the dark skin and eyes, those high-set cheekbones—and search instead for signs of my father’s, Jeremiah’s. 15 years later I will hike the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico and stare in fascination at all of the faces that resemble mine, faces that will stare back, or so it seems, in a kind of distant recognition. As a boy, I don’t acknowledge the similarities between my face and the faces of those phantom Indian warriors who I dream, like the movie Jeremiah, of retributively slaughtering.
modoc county national forest
Modoc County is a high-desert wilderness tucked in the northeast corner of California and bordered by Nevada to the east and Oregon to the north. The lowlands are strewn with the aforementioned lava beds, rough grasses and sage meadows. Encircling the rolling sagebrush are pine-covered mountain bluffs with thick groves of aspen and juniper. The high-bluff mesas reach 10,000 feet in elevation, while lowland meadows rest at roughly 4,500. It is vast country, a place whose county motto reads, “Where the West Still Lives.” A place where the Indian wars raged, and where the kind of blood I dream of spilling did just that. The famous Modoc chief, Captain Jack, held up there. Of course, we don’t know any of this as we hike over those same lava plains in the early morning. We are too busy trying to keep up with Pop, who leads the way, searching for an enclave of our own, a place to bed down his grumbling band of men and boys.
I follow close behind Pop all through the hike. I always hike near the front, next to my father who always leads. My uncle walks at the rear of the pack and takes movies with the Super 8. He keeps the boys’ spirits up telling jokes and making fun of my father. He has a paradoxical relationship with Pop. He both follows and criticizes everything he does. My uncle is the only one in our family from the east coast — New Jersey. He has an accent that I imagine to be the same as those Bowery Boys in the movies ’cause he has that same smart-ass way of talking to people. The other kids follow his lead, but they make fun of me instead — make fun of how I follow Pop, try to be the little man. “Look, he’s a little Lee,” they say, pointing and laughing, “only dark brown.”
No one expected winter. The snow, beautiful at first, quickly loses its luster after slogging through it all morning. We follow Pop who is deaf to our complaints. He shoulders his rifle and trudges ahead purposefully. I follow him as close as I can but it’s a struggle. The snow turns to freezing rain, then to heavy rain by mid day, which turns everything to muck. It’s like walking through pancake batter in snow shoes. We slip and fall, covering our clothes with thick streaks of lava-red mud till we look like we’ve been war-painted. By the time we find a suitable camp, a well-sheltered place next to a running stream, we’re exhausted, shivering and in a foul mood. Aside from some deer droppings and the crows, there are few signs of life. Nothing moves beyond the shimmering Aspen. Modoc County may be “Where the West still lives,” but apparently little else does.
“We’ve picked a bad time to survive, boys,” my Uncle Rich says, and as much as I hate to agree with him, he’s right. It’s still winter here. It may be warm and Spring-like in the Bay Area, but in Modoc it’s freezing cold and snowing and NOTHING IS GROWING! Pop’s diligent plan — namely stockpiling — overlooked the obvious: it’s the wrong season for survival. We are apparently the only life forms inhabiting Modoc County. “It’s like the place is hibernating,” Robert says. “What are we going to eat?”
“I’m hungry,” Everyone seems to say at once. Day three of our survival trip begins the same as the previous two — with empty stomachs. Before the rest of us got up, Pop ventured out and found a patch of mustard greens and shot two grey squirrels. So our breakfast this morning is a kind of squirrel stew with greens and instant rice that Pop cooks over the fire in a pressure-cooker. I’m the only kid who will eat it. After yesterday’s lunch of fried catfish and wild mushrooms — a lunch my brother Boz threw up after eating — the others settle for their sunflower seeds, or rip open the linings of their jackets for the last of the candy bars their mothers have sewn into them.
Pop gathers us around the fire and tells us to pair up and search the surrounding area for edible food. He shows us photos from the Gibbon’s book of some plants and berries and mushrooms to look for. “The mushrooms are real good at hiding, so you have to look close for them,” he tells us. “If you see any fallen trees or stumps, look on the backsides of them. Don’t eat anything until you bring it back here and let me see it, alright?”
“Right. like stuff can actually grow out here,” Robert says.
“There’s food out here.” Pop tells him. “You just have to look. Brush away the snow and look beyond the surface.” He pointed to both his temples. “Think like a plant.”
At this statement, my uncle hands me a folded G.I. shovel and tells me to go dig for something to eat. Then he turns to Pop, “Go easy on the Flower-Power, Grover. Save it for Snake, here. He’ll tune in to that plant energy, won’t you, Snake in the Grass?” I grab the shovel from him and promise myself never to tell my uncle another story. “Okay, everyone,” my uncle continues, “our wilderness leader wants us to gather some flowers. Better get moving before we starve.”
Thinking back on it — it wasn’t really planned well. People who do that stuff —stay out in the wilderness — don’t go out there with no food at all. They’d bring corn or something, some sort of staple, right? He brought a bag of sunflower seeds and a box of mashed potatoes for like 11 people! Maybe if you’re in the military, the Special Forces, you’d train for it, go see if you can survive in the wilderness, but we were like the Lost Boys. I wasn’t even driving yet. I couldn’t have been more than 13, maybe 14. You were what, nine years old? But he was always doing stuff like that. He had so much confidence in our ability to survive anything. Remember Baja? Think about it. He took a bunch of neighborhood kids on this like 2500 mile journey across Baja in what, 1975? That was like the wild west back then. I mean, you’ll never see Baja like that again. We had that dune buggy and the jeep and those dirt bikes, and it was all fair game. Whoever felt like driving just got behind the wheel. You weren’t even tall enough to reach the foot pegs on the Kawasaki. We used to hold you upright and just have you gas it. I would never let my kids go on a trip like that. And that survival trip when he handed everyone a loaded gun? We talk about that all the time. We can’t believe we’re still alive. It wasn’t the wilderness; it’s a miracle we survived each other.
“Well, I guess we were wrong about him. That Snake, he sure does know his way around the mountains. Why, just look at the size of the rack on that buck! We have him to thank for our bounty tonight, boys! Let’s hear it for The Kid, shall we?” They repeat their praises as they pass thick slices of the roasted venison I’ve provided.
In my mind, this is how I replay the scene. It is our sixth night surviving. Everyone is cold and hungry and wants to leave. I do too, but I won’t admit it. I lie awake, the bottom of my sleeping bag resting in a pool of water, and I imagine this scene. In my fantasy, I have saved everyone from starvation by killing a big buck.
The next morning, I wake before dawn, get my rifle and set out. Pop says that the bucks like to bed down in the aspen groves, so I hike in their direction. It’s light by the time I reach them. Their long, beech-white trunks are spotted with black flecks. They remind me of the gangly legs of a foal I once saw being born — the trunks disproportionately long compared to their leafy tops, which sit umbrella-like on their bases. The leaves, mustard yellow, flicker like fishing lures. I stand looking at them when something flashes in the corner of my eye. It is white, whatever it is, and has moved into a copse of scrub oaks. I’m pretty sure it’s a white-tail deer. Approaching the trees I spot him, a buck? Maybe, though he blends into the trees, so I’m not sure if I’m seeing horns or tree limbs. My heart pounds. Then I see it move again, deeper into the forest. The closer I get, the faster he moves, until he just stops, freezes like a backyard target-deer. I plant my feet and slowly raise my rifle.
I try to set the buck’s shoulder in the front sight of my gun, but I’m shaking. He keeps bobbing in and out of my line of fire. Pop says to go for the shoulder. The neck is better, he told me, but it’s a riskier shot. “Whatever you do,” I hear him saying to me, “Don’t gut-shoot him. A gut-shot and he’s gone. You’ll never see him again. Wastes everything.”
I take a deep breath and hold it, but my head swims till I have to sit down. I feel like everything is closing in around me, like the time Robert locked me in a closet and I panicked, nearly breaking the door down before he let me out. I place my head between my legs, breath slowly, curse myself for wasting a good kill. When I stand up, I see that the buck is still there, just browsing as though nothing’s happened. I shoulder my rifle, steady my hands till the buck comes into my sights and stays put. I reach out as far as I can until my finger finds the trigger.
Ten minutes later, I’m still watching the buck. I raise and lower my rifle. Raise it. Lower it. The third time I do this, I hear a shot. I look around but don’t see anyone. I turn back toward the buck. He’s still there, browsing. If he fears a predator in the wild, it is someone other than me. Just then, I hear three successive shots fired a ways off. I know it is Pop, signaling for me to get my ass back to camp. I know he’ll be mad as hell, give me a lecture, tell me how I screwed up big time, and put our survival at risk. He’ll be right. When I turn back the buck is gone, off into the thicket of trees and out of sight.
Absorbed in thoughts of self-loathing for not being able to pull the trigger, I don’t pay attention to my path and get lost while hiking back to camp. Somehow I’ve walked in circles for like two hours. Nothing looks familiar. Pop says that if we get lost, stay put. I don’t want to stay put. I feel like I should keep moving or I’ll never get back. I don’t want to be out here anymore. Not lost in the wilderness, not out here trying to survive, not eating squirrel meat and weeds. I want to be home and warm.
When I am afraid, I sleep. So that’s what I do. I walk to the base of an oak tree, curl up, go to sleep gripping my rifle. My hope is that I can sleep away the time while the others look for me, and when I wake up, everything will be okay. Sure, Pop will be mad, but then he’ll tell me how relieved he is, how frightened he was when he discovered I was lost and alone out here.
Pop wakes me without a word. Robert is with him. He looks at me with disgust. Pop doesn’t say a word beyond “get up, let’s go.” We hike back to camp in a whimper.
home movies 2
The shooting begins. Bodies succumb to their wounds, fall and then quietly lift themselves back to life. We are like Terminator Boys, whose wounds heal themselves. Our deaths, transient — we grasp chests, necks, stomachs, we die —then we get back up and start shooting again. My brother, Boz, takes a bullet in the gut and crumbles like a sack. He mouths, “You got me!” Incredulous. How has it come to this? He lies still, no sound. We watch him. It is eerily quiet — not even a projector’ s whir. Our expelled breaths the only soundtrack.
We hike across meadows and through lava-crested hills until we reach Blue Lake. We stand on the marshy shores and unpack the fishing gear. Another problem with surviving here has been all the rain. Rains have left the streams muddied, and the water rushes thick, like rivers of creamed blood. Bad for fishing, worse for drinking. From the shore, some of the boys cast lines out anyway. Greg Roberts and I collect cattails, apparently edible.
My uncle takes a few shots at some geese flying overhead, but they are well out of range and he knows it. Desperate, he and my father start shooting mud hens. These birds mostly just sit out in the water, like black decoys. Occasionally they will dive below the surface. When one is shot, the flock-mates (if that’s what they are called), rather than flying off, dive to the bottom only to resurface half a minute later to be shot themselves. They are like those ducks in an arcade shooting-gallery. In the end, Uncle Rich and Pop kill seven, but without a dog we have no way to retrieve them. Not wanting to get soaked, Pop has us throw rocks out beyond the floating birds until they bob to shore.
I remember the preparations for the trip. That guy, Euell Gibbons, was a big thing and Pop had that book — How to Eat Wild Dandelions or something like that. He was always into that stuff anyway, trying to survive off the land and all that. When I was packing, well, I knew I was going to starve to death. He actually went through our backpacks to make sure we didn’t sneak in any food, but I snuck a bunch of Cup-of-Soups in my mess-kit. That one night—I think it was like the sixth night there — he came to me and asked me for my mess-kit. He knew that I had snuck it in. I figured you had told him cause you were so gung-ho and all, his little big man. But then he took it and put it into the stew with those ducks he shot and the food Uncle Rich snuck. I mean, at that point, he knew he needed to feed us something. The kids were really starting to complain a lot. Some were pretty sick. Tom Roberts had passed out some candy to the kids that afternoon that his wife had sewed into the lining of his jacket. Thank God for that food we snuck. That’s all I can say.
We all had our fishing poles, but the river was a mess if you remember. We couldn’t fish, so we had nothing. It looked like the Muddy Mississippi. That’s what everyone kept saying. We had no food. The first night we ate those squirrels. Well some of us did. A few of the kids wouldn’t touch ‘em. After that, we had those fucking dandelions and that sour duck he shot, but that was a total disaster.
So, that last night, he put the ducks and potatoes and my Cup-of-Soups in that big pressure cooker (you remember that one he always used?) right on the open fire, to make a stew out of it. We were all just starving at that point. We joked about how we were going to cut up our boots and cook the leather to eat. So that duck and soup was smelling real good. And then the pressure cooker started whistling, like a teapot, so we knew it had to be close. We all had our bowls held out just waiting.
Then it blew up! Everything. Sky high. Blew the lid clean off the pot. The relief valve was bad or something, so there went our precious stew flying into the trees. I don’t think it was going to go far enough around to begin with, but when that happened, I remember everyone holding there bowls out trying to catch whatever dripped down from the limbs. It was pretty pathetic. Some of the kids just laughed, but it wasn’t really the funny kind of laugh. I sure didn’t think it was funny. There was still some left in the pot, some scraps of meat and broth, but I was fed up. I just threw my bowl down and went to bed.
It was a miserable night. It rained so hard. The men went to the big tent to drink and sleep, but we had those one-man pup tents that you couldn’t quite fit into. We pretty much slept in standing water. I actually slept pretty good because I think Steve and I had gotten new sleeping bags, so we were dry and warm compared to some of you guys. You must have been pretty miserable.
From inside their tent, the men laugh about it, but they have their wine to warm their bellies. I have nothing, just an empty bowl and a wet bed to turn to. I stand next to the dying embers of the fire, looking up into the trees, where scraps of meat and broth still hang from wet limbs. A pathetic survivor, I hold my bowl upward imagining some scrap of meat or bone will fall down to fill me up. The voices of the men lift into the darkness in a drone, like one long laugh-track. I think of those Boy Scouts Pop scoffs about, and wonder what they’re eating on this night, if they’re roasting hotdogs or marshmallows, if they’re all together—scouts and leaders, boys and their fathers—singing camp-songs around the fire. Wherever they are, I imagine their bellies are warm, their bowls filled to the brim.
leaving the wilderness
The following morning Pop tells us we are breaking camp and heading out. I act like I’m really upset about it, but no one buys it. They know I’m as miserable as everyone else. Even though I feel guilty, like my getting lost is the reason we have to quit, I want it to be over like everyone else. Well, everyone but Pop.
We hike out and reach the bus at about noon. It’s still raining hard. Everything is caked with red lava mud — our shoes weigh a ton, and our pant legs and jackets are soaked and covered with streaks of mud where we’ve slid face down under strands of barbed wire or fallen during the hike back. Our packs, tents and sleeping bags are like everything else about us — heavy.
We climb in the van and over each other and fall in a messy heap wherever we can. Our biggest worry now is that our confiscated food will be ruined. “If it is soaked,” Greg Roberts said, “I’m going break into the first store we get to and steal every bag of chips in the place. I’ll stuff my pockets and run.” Everyone adds their own story of desperation, the lengths to which they’ll go to steal and gorge on food. My uncle yells, “Take it easy boys. Tonight we’re going to eat steak dinner. We’ll eat like kings.” Pop starts the van and jambs it into gear. At last we are leaving the wilderness.
Within a half a mile, however, the trouble starts. The road, caked with the same thick red mud that clings to us, is like a sheet of ice. We lose traction on the first hill we attempt. Less than halfway up, we stall.
Pop attempts to rock it back and forth, and to regain momentum, but it’s no use. We are stuck. “Bail out everyone. We need to push!” he yells.
“I can’t believe this,” my brother said. “It’s like survival takes forever.”
It takes nearly an hour, but eventually we get unstuck. When we reach the paved road it’s nearly dark. From there, we drive until we come to a little gas station where we all jump out and buy loads of candy and chips and soda. We stuff our faces, so by the time we get to a restaurant, most of the kids are nauseous. Our stomachs are shocked by the food, the rush of salt and sugar. After that, we drive up to this reservoir near Truckee and camp a few miles from the highway. By now, we have stores of food. We have big Styrofoam coolers iced down and filled with eggs and bacon and beer and soda. We eat greasy fried breakfasts, fat cheeseburgers and baked potatoes for dinner.
When we get home a few days later, the moms have this grand feast waiting for us. They expect us to be these walking skeletons. We are far from starving by that point. We sit at the table and stare at the kind of spread we’d all fantasized about just a few days before: pot roast, broiled pork chops, chicken and dumplings, real mashed potatoes and gravy, artichoke casseroles. There are a lot of leftovers that night — more than enough to survive two weeks in the wilderness.
 Lava-formed rock tunnels and out-croppings common to Modoc-County National Forest.
 Dave Simonett, Trampled by Turtles, “When I Come Back Again,” Songs from a Ghost Town.
 It is.
 Not sure if it was the boy or the burger that saddened me.
 The first time my brother fires the weapon, the recoil leaves a dark bruise on his shoulder and a half-moon scar on the bridge of his nose where the scope whacked him. Truth is, most of his memories of shooting/hunting with my father are troubling. At ten, he witnessed a friend of Pop’s accidently shoot and kill his (the friend’s) Brittany Spaniel while hunting pheasant. The following year, also while pheasant hunting, a shotgun blast fired too close to my brother’s head left him with a deafening ring. The incessant noise lasted for months. Years later, he claims to at times still hear it and to suffer from a 70% hearing loss.
Don’t really want to engage in the whole Truth-in-Memoir debate here, but I’m pretty sure that my brothers and I knew nothing then of black-market arms dealers. We’d learn about that soon enough. At the time, Robert probably responded with a roll of his eyes, which I likely interpreted to mean, “holy smokes!” I was the youngest and Pop’s staunchest follower, not yet capable of my brother’s cynicism.
 I only recently found out that Pop served in the Canadian Air Force, rather than the U.S. Air Force as we had believed for like 40 years.
 Our planned route was the same as the one blazed by racers in the Baja 1000, the famous 1000-mile off-road race. Due to difficulties (car repairs, illnesses/injuries, loss of direction, etc.) we were often forced back on to paved roads. Although, nothing in 1974, mid-peninsular Baja could really be called paved.
 While on a four-wheel drive expedition through the Rubicon in Desolation Valley, my father used the belt from his pants to secure a broken leaf spring. Later, on the same trip, he removed the engine hood, so my uncle could sit on the front fender and manually work the carburetor’s linkage (essentially, work the gas) after breaking the throttle cable. We traveled over 60 miles off road in this fashion. There are more—too many—similar episodes I could relate.
 We later find out Pop brings powdered milk instant rice, “Just for flavor.” The men also had liquor, wine and at least two cartons of Marlboros.
 A year earlier, Pop killed a big buck while hunting in Modoc. While field-dressing it, he removed the liver and held it in his cupped hands as though it were a rare stone, then handed it to me as an offering. “That’s what we’ll be eating tonight,” he told me. I gulped.
 Captain Jack, along with 55 Modoc warriors, held off 500 U.S. army soldiers, fortressing themselves in the famous lava tubes that blanket the plains. It took a siege of over 1000 soldiers to force the Modocs, weakened by starvation, to surrender. Captain Jack was later tried and sentenced to death by the US Government for the murder of General Canby. He was hanged on October 3 rd 1873. His head was later shipped off to the Smithsonian Institution where it remained until 1984 when decedents of Captain Jack removed it from the desk of an unnamed scientist who was using the skull as a paperweight.
 Pop’s legal first name. My Uncle rich is the only one who ever calls him this. To everyone else he’s “Lee,” his middle name.
 Robert has all the old Super 8 movies of our trips transferred to videotape in 1999.
 Also known as coots, mud hens are mostly black (thus their name) birds that inhabit swamps and marshes. They have short wings, long legs, and big feet which make them poor flyers and easy targets. They are not generally eaten — on a culinary par with the squirrel.
Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Mark Montgomery now lives in Central New York , where he teaches in the English Department at Cayuga Community College. He has a Ph.D. in English from SUNY-Binghamton. This work is part of his forthcoming memoir, which explores the complex relationships between fathers and sons, particularly the challenges faced when dealing with his son, who has Tourette’s syndrome.
February 20, 2010 1 Comment
The Blades of the Window Fan
The grill is an amputation of old bedspring coils
that supports the pot of beans which are young sediment
and the bed, knowing of its wholeness
commits to the memory of pink walls
the steady weight, the soft curve of elbow
before the necessity of slow dismemberment
I lie on a bed of cotton sheets
damp and lined with the old maps of explorers
trampled on by my father’s small horse,
the one he traded for a smaller pickup truck.
The coils below squeak out rusty crow feathers
to flame the fires in the pit outside.
The blades of the window fan hypnotize my dirt brown stare,
dry away the sweat and urine of wind laced days without baths
in a bucket of well water.
Outside the window is the neighbor’s dog
that surrenders under the low mesquite branch
in a shallow hole it has dug
and lined with feathers,
black with blue and violet reflections
like the eye of a horse.
The rhythmic hum weighs down the eyelids
and kindles the fire.
The beans begin to boil.
Jose Antonio Rodriguez is winner of the 2010 Allen Ginsberg poetry award. in 2008, he headed “Writing By Degrees”, an invitational literary program conducted by the graduate department in English at Binghamton University. His poetry has appeared in Paterson Literary Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, Connecticut Review and elsewhere.”
February 20, 2010 Comments Off on Jose Antonio Rodriguez
Poetry Out Loud
Debuted on IndieFeed.
an open letter to Sarah Palin
On October 17, 2008 at a fundraiser in Greensboro, NC, Sarah Palin stated that small towns are “the real America.”
There is a girl on the loose side of Brooklyn who wears tap shoes, prays for rain, and keeps an origami zoo on her ceiling.
(This is no metaphor. I know her.)
She likes wine, but won’t drink it. She lurches and stops, reverses,
lurches again. She is a windup toy hitting walls, bouncing back,
restarting, churning and churning, ever forward.
(This is a metaphor. She is not, actually, a toy, Sarah.)
This girl has gold where her heart used to be. She is damage dressed in
Gap and you would call her jezebel. She is expert in cute and quirk but
this girl is gravel tested, pulp vein and chipped tooth, she is America.
You, Sarah, use cute and quirk like grenades.
You use your children like cheerleaders’ pompoms
and your husband like some polished gold badge.
There is a single mother on the cut-knee side of Brooklyn who wears her daughter like a smile, works sixteen-hour days and uses the bitter on her tongue like a bulletproof vest. She paid overtime cash for her daughter’s braces, had to hold a fundraiser to pay for her own surgery. She likes Starbucks and soul food.
I know her, too, Sarah.
I know the woman in the window who wears good leather and keeps
her closet filled with broken men. A girl with pomegranate-apple salad
who tongue-kisses girls, writes in code and speaks the language of
canary. I even know a woman with a peacock-plumed tiara and nearly
five children who keeps libraries behind her eyes and children’s stories
under her skin. She uses lead canisters in fist fights and has hearts for
(This is almost a metaphor.)
Don’t you see it, Sarah? Like your small town “real,” Brooklyn, too, is
And her belly is full. She is fat on jezebel: women with eight children
and women with none. Women who have sent their children to war,
buried them in flags. Women beaten so badly they no longer speak
words. Women who love women. Women who educate. Women who
have never owned a designer bag and buy their clothes at 99 cent
discount stores. Women who have aborted and women who have |
adopted. Women who inject heroin and women who raise other
women’s children. Women who only buy organic orange juice.
This is Brooklyn. This is America.
So be careful. Because we have grown tired of your winks and your
instant clichés, bored with your Charles and Katie blunders, with your
shotguns and your oil fields, with your unpaid rape kits and your
banned books. So while you inject Botox into the lips of pit bulls, pull
your hair into its neat little bun, slip on your smart glasses and turn
back the clock for women’s rights, remember us.
Careful, Sarah, Brooklyn’s coming.
(Originally appeared at PANK, www.pankmagazine.com/?p=1004
Contact: Jeanann Verlee, firstname.lastname@example.org
February 20, 2010 Comments Off on Jeanann Verlee
The Encaustic Photograph
Images to Last a Lifetime
Artist Charles Bremer has explored a wide breadth of creative medium in his career ranging from photography and drawing to theater stage sets, sculpture and experimental sound. His work has been exhibited in galleries, museums and art centers both in the United States and internationally. Most of his graphic work explores a synthesis of the natural elements with the human body through his highly developed method of hand painted prints. He is an accomplished master in the technique of encaustic wax glazing. His recent exhibitions have included a study of old art supplies, collaborative project exploring text and image, and a photographic series Two Dancers at the National Museum of Dance.
Beginning in the mid 1980’s, in collaboration with his wife Martha, he hosted a series of regional exhibitions exploring the natural elements in art. These large exhibitions; Waterways, Art on the Wind, Earthworks, and Art on Fire brought together many artists to share themes related to environmental concern and understanding important to the upstate region. Much of Bremer’s work has aimed to educate and celebrate the importance of protected natural spaces both urban and rural. He has designed unique teaching programs for young students emphasizing the art of listening and unique outdoor instruments activated by the natural forces: wind, fire, and water.
Upcoming projects for 2010 include publication of a photographic portfolio by the University of Utah; an aeolian harp installation at the Crane School of Music in Potsdam, NY; and an exhibition of encaustic wax images at the Anthony Brunelli Gallery, Binghamton. Charles Bremer is married to Martha Bremer. They have three daughters. Their workshops and studios are located along Briar Creek in Otego, New York.
— John Brunelli
February 20, 2010 Comments Off on Charles Bremer
Revival of the Fittest
New Police Gazette brings back
good old-fashioned Journalism
How did you get interested in the Police Gazette?
I became interested in the Gazette first as a youth, seeing it referenced in other areas of popular culture such as Bugs Bunny cartoons. I loved the name, the logo, and the way it was portrayed as something shocking, titillating, and funny. Much later, I did more extensive research and found it was even more shocking, titillating, and funny than I had imagined. This was especially interesting due to the fact it had started in the 19th century. Ribald humor and shocking irony were not 20th century inventions.
What prompted you to claim the site?
The publication had finally ceased by 1977 and, other than a brief interest shown by a gentleman in the 1980s, the National Police Gazette trademark had not been picked up by anyone else. The Gazette was lying fallow, seemingly without a soul to carry it into the 21st century. I simply picked up a standard that had been dropped, and created the website to breathe life into the Gazette once again.
Who is William A. Mays? Your alter ego?
Yes, this is my pen name for the website. William A. Mays is based on Richard K. Fox, the most flamboyant and successful previous owner of the Gazette.
Can you give us a little history on your background?
My father was writer Donald E. Westlake. I have an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Miami, where I was managing editor of the graduate literary magazine. I’ve worked as a reporter for weekly newspapers, and as a contributing writer to a national women’s magazine. Other writing includes poetry that was accepted at the Hofstra University conference celebrating the 100th birthday of Babe Ruth, and the accounting department procedures manual for the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR). I also have experience in sales and client financial management, particularly as an agent and registered representative for New York Life Insurance. Other business and financial experience include my four years at Morgan Stanley, doing the business start-up for my brother’s company, writing the business plan for a friend’s company, and serving as a board member and treasurer for the Summer Savoyards, Inc. I have years of experience in theater as an actor, director, production manager, etc. Finally, I also have experience as a teacher, most recently as an instructor of English at Broome Community College.
William a. Mays’ background?
You’ve heard of The Most Interesting Man in The World? William A. Mays is his best friend and biographer.
Now what about the Gazette? Who was responsible for it in the beginning, and were the woodcuts regarded then as the beautiful women and photography you include now?
The National Police Gazette started in 1845 as the 19th century version of America’s Most Wanted with John Walsh. It was designed to expose fugitives to the public so they could help in the fugitives’ capture. By 1878 it was doing poorly and on the verge of closing. That year it was purchased by Richard K. Fox, an immigrant from Ireland, who then used it to revolutionize American journalism. Fox turned the Gazette into a showpiece of lurid sensationalism. In the process, he invented the sports page, the celebrity gossip column, the girlie magazine, and perfected the concept of the illustrated weekly. Within a few years the Gazette went from near extinction to one of the most popular and talked about weeklies in America. Half of the column inches in any given issue were covered with illustrations, totally unheard of at the time. The subject matter of these illustrations was heavily weighted toward crime/violence, sports, and women. And if women could be depicted in settings involving crime/violence or sports, all the better. Fox also had the good sense to hire some of the best artists available, resulting in lurid, grotesque, prurient illustrations that also happened to be technical masterpieces. To answer the question if Fox’s woodcuts were regarded the same as the photos I put up, what I do is far more tame and tasteful based solely on the prevailing attitude of society. If I were to get the same reaction to my pictures as Fox did to his, I’d probably have to feature stills from snuff films. What Fox did was irreverent and shocking to the sensibilities of the 1880s, and I feel he deserves a great deal of the credit for helping American society transition from the stuffy Victorian era to the looser attitudes of the 20th century. He was a visionary in many ways, and one of the delights of handling the Gazette now is when I get contacted by a researcher who is flabbergasted that the Gazette documented something years before it appeared anywhere else. Finally, until I have the resources to make the website more picture oriented, I’ve been focusing on the concept of “the girl on the Police Gazette.” This was a popular catch phrase that highlighted the fact that before Playboy, or even magazines such as Photoplay, the Police Gazette was the periodical of choice for pictures of provocatively posed young women. Irving Berlin even wrote a popular song about this titled “The Girl on the Police Gazette.”
Where do you get the articles you headline? Do you have any copyright issues here?
Ideas for the original material I write for the site come from real news items. These are all real people and events reported as accurately as possible, but told with the Police Gazette style or perspective. Those stories are copyrighted by “William A. Mays,” which is my dba (trade name). The articles and illustrations I publish from the original Gazette are all pre-1923, and thus in the public domain. However, the pages on my website in which they appear are copyrighted by William A. Mays, which means if you want to use material on the page that was from the original Police Gazette, that’s okay. But if you want to take the webpage itself and do something, that requires permission. Also, the Police Gazette logo is a trademark of William A. Mays, National Police Gazette. So anyone who wishes to use the logo in an original work other than scholarly research would require my permission.
How do you do the reproductions of the woodcuts and/or lithographics you’re selling online? What processes? Quality of paper? What are people buying here?
The process involves a digital camera, the original paper issues of the Gazette, and Photoshop. The details are a bit proprietary, so I’ll just leave it at that. But the result is that the illustration is enhanced for clarity, detail, and consistency. The quality of the image ends up better than you will see in any copies of an original Gazette, which have suffered from wear and age. In fact, I feel so strongly about the quality and historic value of Police Gazette illustrations that I would like to run every Gazette illustration through this process and save them for posterity before the paper issues deteriorate into dust. The posters I sell are 18″x24″ and printed on thick semi-gloss stock using archival ink.
Is this a profitable venture? Or a hobby?
It started as a hobby, one of those things a person does for the love of it and I would do whether it made a profit or not. It is, however, gradually morphing into a business. Sales are low right now because the premier item–the posters–just went up less than two months ago, and I have not yet begun any significant marketing push. I’ll be ramping that aspect of it up over the next few weeks. Another big part of my work with the Gazette is that I provide a service to researchers free of charge. A complete collection of the National Police Gazette does not exist in any publicly accessible place. Chunks of it exist in various forms–originals, microfilm, online PDF database–and scattered around various libraries. And there are volumes and issues that, at this time, can’t be found anywhere. Frustrated researchers ask me for help, and often I can steer them in the right direction. I’ve gotten acknowledgements in the books of published authors, and I’ll be listed as a source of archival material in an upcoming PBS American Experience documentary about Wyatt Earp.
Do you anticipate a print copy?
I don’t anticipate a regularly published periodical, unless an opportunity comes along to do something similar to what The Onion does, namely, have it serve not just as a vehicle for a particular brand of comedy, but also as an alternative weekly for the college and art crowd, with useful reviews and locally specific features and advertising. But I do want to produce special stand-alone publications with catchy titles such as “The Police Gazette Treasury of Electric Shock,” “The Police Gazette Treasury of Home Invasion,” etc. or “The National Police Gazette Presents: Profiles in Abomination,” “The National Police Gazette Presents: Profiles in Malfeasance,” etc.
What’s the long-term goal here?
The long-term goal is to brand the National Police Gazette. My dream is to rebuild a Police Gazette “empire,” marketing the old with the new, and appeal to nostalgia/retro enthusiasts as well as current lovers of news-as-irony, e.g., fans of The Onion and Stephen Colbert. The first step is to fully develop the website, improving the technical quality and having regularly updated stories, art, and interviews. Another goal is to make the site a one-stop shop for researchers and fans of the old Gazette, having all the old stories and illustrations available online in a searchable database much the same way that The New York Times does. I’d like to market everything from the Police Gazette font to an entire fashion line. Ultimately, I don’t think a museum is out of the question. The huge amounts of popular culture the Gazette not only documented but generated I think would be ideal for a museum format. In our current environment where the brand is everything, I see nothing stopping a “Police Gazette” brand from taking hold. When I see some of the apparel in the WalMarts and JC Penneys and TJ Maxxs, there’s clothing with brand names and logos that were made up for the sole purpose of serving as art for apparel. They are logos of fictional companies made to sound old fashioned yet important. If the Police Gazette doesn’t sound old fashioned yet important, I don’t know what does! The key is planting it emotionally in the minds of the general public. The “myth” of the Gazette has to be created and disseminated.
Is this a full-time gig for you? If not, what do you do for a living?
This does not yet make enough money to live on, so a good chunk of my time is taken up doing things that pay the bills. Until December I taught English at Broome Community College. Right now I’m exploring other options, including getting involved in other business ventures that may be more immediately profitable. However, I would like nothing more than to have the Police Gazette be my full-time occupation.
Are a lot of your readers cops? Cons? Average Joes?
In spite of the name, the target audience is not involved in criminal justice. Right now most of the site’s readers are average Joes–who enjoy the stories of murdered teen porn stars–and history buffs looking to research the old Gazette or subjects covered by it. In addition, I intend to market the Gazette to 15-35 year olds who enjoy their pop culture snarky. Fans of The Onion, The Daily Show, and Stephen Colbert are good prospects, as are those who prefer the modern world presented with a 19th century veneer, such as fans of steampunk. Then there’s the art. I want the Gazette to be a showcase again for artists’ work. I’d like to see artists create depictions to accompany the original articles, which would bring art lovers to the site to see the latest illustrations.
What else can you tell us about the Police Gazette?
To answer that here are some excerpted paragraphs from a documentary narration draft I wrote:
A century before Howard Stern hit the airwaves, there was a man who not only recognized the appeal of quasi-lesbian imagery, but — like Stern — knew how to make it an acceptable part of popular culture. Five generations before Stephen Colbert and Sacha Baron Cohen blurred the distinction between the real and fictional news correspondent, there was a man who populated his real-news publication with fictional editors and their semi-real exploits. Before there was the celebrity gossip column, he invented it. Before there was a sports page, he created it. Before the advent of the girlie magazine, he provided it. When the sport of boxing was illegal and widely considered immoral, this man championed, promoted, and popularized it all the way into legal and public acceptance. The heads of “respectable” publications looked down on him, but then raced to imitate him when his success became undeniable. Hugely popular, even across the ocean, the publication made an appearance in James Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses. At a time when the barbershop was not just a place to get your hair cut, but served as the de facto gentlemen’s club for the working class, it was known as the “bible of the barbershop.” Its recipe mixed the titillating and funny with the informative and serious in just the right proportion, in a way that had never been thought of previously, in a way that led directly to what we know as today’s tabloid journalism, sports reporting, skin magazines, shock jocks, and quasi-news programs such as the Daily Show. The purveyors of these current forms of entertainment, as well as the professional sport of boxing, can address their gratitude to one Richard K. Fox and his publication the National Police Gazette.
The news was real, and it was shocking, but it was offered with a wink. If it was violent and gory, great; if it involved sexual infidelity, wonderful; if it included both, perfect. The details were gratuitously graphic. However, they were mixed with something Richard K. Fox and the Police Gazette may not have invented, but did manage to refine in a way never before seen in American journalism: irony. At a time when newspapers took themselves as seriously as they took their subject matter, Fox and the Gazette set out to blow this pomposity apart. They stalked hypocrisy wherever it lay and went in for the kill, reserving special derision for religious leaders seen as failing to practice what they preached.
Before television and radio were invented, around when Jon Stewart and Howard Stern’s great-great grandparents would have been walking the earth, books, magazines and newspapers were the only way to reach a mass audience. The person who mastered the print medium would be — if not king of all media –certainly king of all mass media.
In pursuit of this goal Richard K. Fox set out to turn this text-heavy medium into something visually exciting. Not only did the number, size, and detail of the Police Gazette‘s illustrations–most of them woodcuts–mark a quantum leap above what was then the norm in other publications, their subject matter was calculated to arouse various areas of the — usually male — psyche. To top it off, he began printing his Gazette on pink paper, another departure — an ironic one at that — from his competitors.
And Fox didn’t just promote boxing. There was hardly a competitive endeavor imaginable that escaped his notice. The Police Gazette sponsored everything from bicycle endurance feats to duck-egg eating contests. Thousands of championship and commemorative Police Gazette medals, belts, and trophies were produced and awarded. With its influence already felt in so many facets of today’s mass communication, the Guinness Book of World Records can also find a direct ancestor in the Gazette. Such was its interest in top achievement in a wide variety of human activities. For these, the Police Gazette served as the paper of record. Richard Fox promised readers the Gazette could settle any dispute when it came to questions of a sporting nature.
The National Police Gazette lasted for 132 years, publishing from 1845 to 1977, and produced 5,000 issues–one of the longest runs in American periodical history. Its heyday was the Fox years, from 1878 to 1922, with its greatest impact occurring in the first half of that remarkable run. The impact was so great that people alive at the time spoke of the influence the Gazette had on them years afterward. Franklin P. Adams, the famed newspaper columnist and Algonquin Round Table member, said “Women and Crime–that magic front-page partnership… interested and thrilled me…. Yes, I used to stare at those pictures, and so did all the boys that I knew.” Thomas Edison was said to have been a regular reader. Irving Berlin wrote a song about it called “The Girl on the Police Gazette.” In movies, cartoons, and even into the television era, when a character needed to be depicted reading a shocking magazine, it was usually the Police Gazette. And it still makes appearances today, most recently being featured in the new Sherlock Holmes movie starring Robert Downey, Jr.
For news you’ll find hard to believe,
check out the site: www.policegazette.us
Talk to the boss:
William A. May, proprietor
February 20, 2010 Comments Off on Cops & Robbers
For the Bees to Come
We must kiss the Earth for days,
not even feeling bold enough to say
we are sorry. There must be a coughing child
on every hill, his hands wrapped
in something invaluable.
He should wave, convinced he is seen
from afar. An adult must be
next to each child, convincing.
The pregnant women should throw out
all lists of names they had, assign
their children musical notes –
call them for dinner with whistles
and violins. The children will never
answer to different names.
Most of all we need to
hang our houses from trees.
Make somebody else’s life sweet –
why do bees make honey anyway?
We must put chiffon on the necks
of tigers, fake flowers in lakes.
What more could they want?
Even teach animals to sign checks,
put banks in the forest.
After an Argument
I in and out my bike
in the stitch of lane marking,
punctuation for motion, unlike
your language where every sixth word
has birds in it. From here I can see
First Avenue for twenty-three blocks.
I hit the brakes, hoping to erase
some lines with my tires. You and I set
our opinions like flowerpots
on top of a calm sea. No escape
from the ourness of the immediate future.
Someone said we are reborn
a hundred times every second.
We get recycled into ourselves.
How to make what is already
in our mouths more delicious?
The grass crawls onto the backs of ladybugs,
as if it will get somewhere other
than guts but once
you grew irises from rice seeds.
You really did.
Margarita Delcheva is a graduate of the NYU Creative Writing Program. Her poems have been published in CutThroat, Chronogram, Ep;phany, the Meadow and others. She is Associate Faculty at the University of Phoenix and currently resides in New York. Margarita’s first book of poems is coming out this Spring in Sofia, Bulgaria.
February 20, 2010 Comments Off on Margarita Delcheva
The Holy Spirit at the Baptism of Christ
…the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on Him…
to a falling mirror of
a dove than
the dove itself–
flat as a page
and that deepness
turning itself in
somehow expands finitude,
a black hole of light–
this must be where gravity goes.
And this must be
how God answers
His own prayer:
the voice of God
conforms itself to a whisper–
the whisper submits
to the wind, blown
this way, that–
what hovered over
the waters of creation
over new waters,
a new creation.
Micah Towery has his MFA from Hunter College. He enjoys making his own yogurt and blogging on http://www.thethepoetry.com.
February 20, 2010 Comments Off on Micah Towery
Review: Crooked Still
Do you know Crooked Still? You should. They are hard to peg. It’s easy to call them bluegrass, but that’s not entirely accurate. They could be a folk music band from The Anthology of American Music school, but that’s not it either. Maybe they’re a blues band? As I said, hard to peg.
When I first heard them a few years back I was gripped, but I wasn’t sure exactly why. Watching them live in Cooperstown made it clear. They send a jumble of mixed messages out to the audience. Two beautiful women, three good-looking men, seemingly as sweet as can be, playing the most sinister shit, old crazy American tales of drowning girls, fiddles made of bones, you get the picture. At intermission, I mentioned my new found insight to the band and cited Dock Boggs’ “Sugar Baby” as an example. Lead singer Aoife O’Donovan was, I think, a little surprised that I knew ol’ Dock. When she told me they were opening the second set with Boggs’ “Calvary” I was very pleased with myself, you can imagine. Some bands bring exceptional musicianship that can lead to technical coldness, but Crooked Still comes at you from the soul. They are like an evil Dexy’s Midnight Runners, without the overalls and dirt.
What makes their sound deliciously dark and creepy is the upfront role of the cello, brilliantly played by Tristan Clarridge. Rushad Eggleston, the band’s first cellist who helped create Still’s unique sound, left the group in November of 2007. Some bands would crumble when an integral member flies the coop, but it’s clear when you read between the lines that the chemistry of the new lineup, with Clarridge and fiddler Brittany Haas, is world’s better than in Eggleston’s time. If you read between the lines, this band would’ve gone by the boards without the lineup change. That would have been tragic.
Now don’t get the idea that all this darkness of which I speak means you’re ready for a wrist-slitting after a Crooked Still show. The band is clearly having a ball and so is the audience. The between song patter is funny and real. Bassist Corey DiMario relished playing in the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame and launched into knowledgeable banter about vintage baseball, recent inductee Jim Rice of the Red Sox and pleaded Pete Rose’s case to any Hall employees who may have been in the crowd. Before “Lonesome Road,” DiMario told how a fly had landed on him during the previous tune and stayed there, no doubt enjoying Crooked Still’s version of “The Golden Vanity.” Then it alit on Clarridge, causing O’Donovan to sing “hang your head and fly.” She stopped the song because she should’ve sung “cry,” not “fly.” The insect became a fixture for the rest of the show, the band bursting into hysteria as they ended with a sing-along “Shady Grove.”
I’ve waited a bit on the other two members of the band, because they deserve some extra attention. Aoife (pronounced ee-fa) O’Donovan is, hands down, the best singer I’ve ever heard. Outrageous, right? It’s impossible to write what you hear, but she is pure crystal, other worldly almost. But not mechanical, no sir. When she sang Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen,” she was a gut-busting blues woman. I’ve been listening to a lot of Janis Joplin lately and Janis couldn’t hold a candle to Aoife. Her folk stylings are as timeless as the songs themselves. She is absolutely mesmerizing and unforgettable.
Greg Liszt. Let’s see, he invented a 4-finger banjo technique. Technically speaking, the 4-finger method is one more than the 3-finger style. His proficiency led him straight from Crooked Still to Bruce Springsteen’s Seeger Session band. If that’s not enough for you, he has a PhD in molecular biology from MIT. Is that not the coolest resume in music? He’s like a comic book superhero! His banjo solo on “Kitchen” was a singular sound; think Eric Clapton meets Earl Scruggs.
An audience member told me after the show that Crooked Still were the best musicians he’d ever seen. OK, I’ll take that. What I can tell you is that they have a new album coming out this spring, giving you a decent amount of time to catch up.
Contributing/Music editor Jeff Katz authors a different take on rock and roll history, with new stories on backbeat Fridays, the 2nd and 4th of every month. Check him out at: http://maybebabyoryouknowthatitwouldbeuntrue.blogspot.com/
February 20, 2010 Comments Off on Jeff Katz
Feeding the Starving Artist
The Public Domain
When our country’s Founding Fathers adopted the U.S. Constitution, they wanted to make sure that, unlike in England, no person could have an unlimited monopoly over property, whether it was real property, personal property, or intellectual property. So Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution gave Congress the power to secure “for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”
The “limited times” stated in this section refers to a time period that has changed over the years, as Congress updated the Copyright Act. Between 1909 and 1978, for example, the copyright term was 28 years, renewable once for an additional 28 years. But the 1976 Copyright Act, which went into effect on January 1, 1978, changed the term of copyright from a maximum of 56 years to the creator’s entire life plus 50 years. More recently, Congress acted again, allowing those with copyright rights (e.g., movie makers, song writers, sculptors, 2-D artists, novelists, screenwriters, etc.) to prevent copying part or all of their creations for their entire life plus 70 years. That’s a long time, of course, but still within what Congress defined as a “limited times.”
Looking backward, however, to works created before 1978, the pre-1976 Copyright Act applies. If someone made a movie, for example, in 1970, and applied for a 28-year copyright registration, it would have expired in 1998, unless the copyright holder decided to renew the registration for another 28 years. Then the expiration of the copyright rights wouldn’t occur until 2065.
The Copyright Office provided a handy table for calculating when the copyright rights of a particular work will expire, depending upon when the work was initially registered and whether the registration had been renewed. For instance, following is an abridged timeline for works published within the United States. You can access the rest of the table by visiting
|Date of Publication||Conditions||Copyright Term|
|Before 1923||None||In the public domain|
|1923 through 1977||Published without a copyright notice||In the public domain|
|1978 to 1 March 1989||Published without notice, and without subsequent registration within 5 years||In the public domain|
|1978 to 1 March 1989||Published without notice, but with subsequent registration within 5 years||70 years after the death of author, or if work of corporate authorship, 95 years from publication|
|1923 through 1963||Published with notice but copyright was not renewed||In the public domain|
|1923 through 1963||Published with notice and the copyright was renewed||95 years after publication date|
|1964 through 1977||Published with notice||95 years after publication date|
|1978 to 1 March 1989||Created after 1977 and published with notice||70 years after death of author, or if work of corporate authorship, 95 years from publication|
|1978 to 1 March 1989||Created before 1978 and first published with notice in this period||The greater of the term specified in the previous entry or 31 December 2047|
|From 1 March 1989 through 2002||Created after 1977||70 years after death of author, or if work of corporate authorship, 95 years from publication|
|From 1 March 1989 through 2002||Created before 1978 and first published in this period||The greater of the term specified in the previous entry or 31 December 2047|
|After 2002||None||70 years after death of author, or if work of corporate authorship, 95 years from publication|
You can access some of the Copyright Office database at http://www.copyright.gov/records/. If you don’t know when a work was registered, the Copyright Office can search its database for you for $150 per hour.
Here’s a rule of thumb that may come in handy: any work that was created before 1923 is now in the public domain, regardless of whether the registration was ever renewed. That’s the magic year. All works created before 1923 can be used without permission by the creator of those works. That would include the music of Brahms, the poetry of Shelley, the plays of Shakespeare, and the paintings of Rembrandt. Be careful, though, that you don’t use a modern recording of a Brahms musical piece, since that particular recording is most likely still under copyright, even though the rights to the underlying musical work are in the public domain.
There are exceptions to the copyright law. For example, under the fair use clause of the Copyright Act, in certain situations you may use copy-protected works without permission. See 17 U.S.C. §107. Also, works created by the federal government cannot be protected by copyright. We are allowed to copy part or all of government publications, photographs, videos, soundtracks, etc. That means that you can copy some or all of productions of the Department of Defense, NASA, Congress, the FBI, and the like without obtaining permission.
Now that you know how to protect yourself in the “public domain,” who will shoulder the responsibility of promoting your work? Throughout the contract process an artist should not overlook the minute details with respect to promotion of the display of their hard work. This includes all artists, not just gallery artists. The producer of a film, the performance dancer, the writer, all should concern themselves with how the work will be promoted and, most importantly, how will it affect their overall bottom line.
Many galleries, agents, production houses, etc. (“promoter”), will agree to take on the responsibility of promotion of the work. However, the cost of this promotion most times will be passed on to the artist through higher commission rates received by the promoter. Terms in the contract that address the promotion of the work will aid the artist in realizing the maximum gain for the hard work that has been put into creating it. As we have said all along, emerging artists should not be timid about insisting on terms in the contract that maximize their gain. Precedent is a hard obstacle to get around as the artist progresses with his or her career.
Promotion of the work needs to be set out in the contract in detail. Specifically, the artist will want to get in writing who will handle any press releases, handbills, posters, and the all important opening reception. As mentioned above, many galleries will take on these responsibilities, but will pass on the overall cost to the artist through the commission that the gallery will take on a sold piece. As added leverage for the artist to reduce the amount of the commission the gallery will take on the sale of the work, he/she may consider assisting the promoter in organizing the promotion of the show.
Whomever takes on the responsibility of promotion, the contract should be clear as to what promotion will be done. At a minimum, the artist will want to make sure the contract includes terms that address, (a) how many posters will be produced, (b) where will the posters be hung to gain the maximum amount of exposure, (c) who will hang them, (d) how long before the show will promotion begin, and (e) how long will promotion of the show continue after the show has begun. The more involved the artist can be with the promotion of her/his own show, the more she/he will be able to control the overall passalong costs.
In the end, whether the show is a success or not depends on what was done to get people to attend. A weak promotion will result in a weak turnout. Specific terms in the contract will give the artist control to direct how the promotion will be accomplished. Overall success will depend on the willingness of the artist to get involved and have his or her opinions not only heard – but also included.
Mark Levy & Ryan Miosek are attorneys with the Binghamton-based law firm of Hinman Howard and Kattell. They specialize in trademarks, copyrights, and the general protection of intellectual property. You can telephone Ryan Miosek at (607) 231-6804 and Mark Levy at (607) 231-6991, or contact them by e-mail at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
February 20, 2010 Comments Off on Levy & Miosek