Monday, February 23, 2009

Show Reviews (2002)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, Feb. 23 - This was originally published in Punk Planet #52.

SHOW REVIEWS

1. Le Tigre / Erase Errata in Pomona, Saturday night
Tickets for a recent Friday night Le Tigre show at the El Rey Theater in West L.A. were found online, sold for $129 a pair. The sticky ethical questions raised by the sale masked a graver issue still; three tickets for the following night's Le Tigre concert at the Glass House in Pomona sold online for $11.50. The realization has been a long time in coming: I live in the Poughkeepsie of Los Angeles. No one respects Pomona. The 30 minutes of drive time from my doorstep to the big city might as well be an expedition to the Mesozoic Yukon for the cosmopolitans coming the other way. Pomona is, as of this writing, the only city on the L.A. Times weather map listed with a qualifier ("Pomona/Fairplex"... a signifier that decodes to; once a year a county fair will be held on this barren spot in the desert). This spring, Mexico City will receive its first Starbucks before Pomona does. It wasn't always this way. Frank Sinatra and Tippi Hedren used to buy hotdogs here when Pomona was a screening oasis. Pillsbury Hardcore were pioneering freaked-out hardcore in this town three presidents ago. What other city on Earth can boast the birthplace of both seminal youth merchandising outlets of the 80's and 90's; Toxic Shock and Hot Topic?

Speaking of "Hot Topic", I think Le Tigre played this song. I'm not entirely sure. Saturday's show took place in the one building in Pomona I can't say I really care for, The Glass House. Like the El Ray, GH is the sort of large, faceless, bouncer-friendly venue that has a sneaky way of distracting from the enjoyment of the bands at hand (I've found myself comparing both clubs to NY's Irving Plaza when talking with east coast friends, as much a gauge of crumbiness as size). Glass House security once forcibly parted me from a ball-point pen on the grounds that it posed some sort of shanking threat. I've always had a brown spot on my heart for clubs like this. Staff jostles me, a friend gets patted down, and inevitably I'm summoning the god of colon cancer to sweep through the night, sprinkling his magic dust over the sleeping heads of my oppressors.

Which isn't nice. Or fair - these people are just doing their jobs, and not in that In-The-Dock-At-The-Hague kind of way, either . I understand there are trade-offs required when running an operation of this size and catering to this demographic. I didn't get stabbed with any pens. And the sound, unlike last year's LT show at The Smell in LA, was crisp, resonant and free from power outages. The worst one can reasonably say about this club is that its ceiling is cluttered with the sort of heavy duty, International Space Station-looking aluminum light rig that may or may not kill a lot of people if an 8.9 earthquake hits. Tragic, yes, but also unavoidable.

2. Quixotic / Pink & Brown in Los Angeles, later that Saturday night
One continues to The Smell in downtown L.A., but the daily ration of cellular energy allocated for sociability is spent, leaving one drained and draped across a stinky couch, unable to appreciate the night's music. Not to put down The Smell's fine assortment of couches. As with so many aspects of this great space, the couches get less stinky with familiarity. Likewise, the bathroom, so utterly trashable on first glance, can actually serve as a nice sanctuary on heavily trafficked nights. And Jalesco, the fairly intimidating Mexican gay bar around the corner on Main street, is actually a decent place for one to obtain a brown bagged Tecate or engage in a bit of toilet stall rumpus.

No bouncers here either. The Smell is that rarest of commodities, a club run by people cool enough to pull the whole thing off but old enough to not suffer delusions of grandeur or fits of political infighting. I've found myself comparing the space to the late Ft. Thunder to east coast friends, as much a gauge of humanity's fundamental decency as size (although the walls of The Smell are barren of the reading material that made even the most boring of shows in Providence a treat, leaving me to leaf sadly through weird RCP-vegan manuals whenever I forget to bring a newspaper). The worst one can say about this place is that its seemingly unretrofitted brick structure will unfurl like socks in a dryer when the 8.9 hits.

3. Cat Power / some horrendous Caucasian garage band, Claremont, the next Wednesday
Four days later it was time for the suave downtowners to make that trip to the Yukon. Cat Power's handlers had booked her in "Little Bridges", a performance hall on the lush campus of Pomona College, itself oddly located in Claremont, the wealthy, troubled, Morgan-Fairchild-nosed older stepsister to hardworking P-Town. Little Bridges' European grandeur and vastness is hard to surpass. This is a solid building. An 8.9 earthquake would hardly raise eyebrows in an audience here. Every mortar and joist is tight in the way only massive amounts of money can sustain. According to the college's website, a recent $5.2 million renovation saw the instillation of new multi-story organ pipes, an "8-inch [thick], resin-impregnated honeycombed structure that is bonded and screwed to the ceiling", over a hundred brand-new, hardwood sound-deflecting chairs, a reshaping of the rear and side walls, wainscoting, windows and balcony, resulting in an increase in reverberation "by a factor of 1.5." I'd seen the Bulgarian Women's Choir of Los Angeles here only a week earlier and can testify that the hall's sound really is quite amazing, a brutal display of Old Money power.

Which was why a Cat Power performance seemed so crucial as a life experience, as simply unmissable as karaoke night at Carnegie Hall . I arrived during the shameful opening indie band, enjoying the spare time to wander the plush lobby. From an unassuming bronze plaque set near the front door, I learned that Bridges Hall of Music had been built in built in 1914 as a sort of working mausoleum. "After brief years in the bloom of her youth," the plaque read, under a sad, half-relief angel, "Mabel Shaw Bridges passed into the unseen... this building has been erected by her parents." The unseen? At the risk of sounding tactless; had they ever found the poor young lady?

"Did you finish your zine?" I turned and saw Anthony, my sometimes employee. Shit. The zine. I'd forgotten to make the zine. How can one attend a Cat Power concert at Bridges Hall of Music without handing away free copies of their unnamed fanzine full of random photos of Amish people and car accidents and orangutans? I made the sort of sour face that says You're Fired and excused myself for the men's room. Bathroom facilities; the Bridges family does not skimp in this department either. Even the itsy bitsy trash can spoke to some unattainable level of elegance, so tidy and tiny that I actually watched guys gingerly placing their waded up handtowels on top of the overflowing can, some humbling show of respect for the entire Bridges clan.

Back in the lobby, I talked with Erica, Station Supervisor of local KSPC, the event's sponsors and one of the absolute best college radio stations in America. KSPC is housed in the basement of the building next door. Several times have I gone to drop off a promo CD in their offices only to contemplate, on emerging into the sunlight, calling the DJ from the outdoor callbox and threatening violence if they didn't play a cut in the next five minutes.

The indie band finished playing and hopefully reassessed their lives. A buzz filled the great hall. Finding seats as if we were attending the opera, I was informed that the old singer of Pillsbury Hardcore was working sound. A different man, some heavyset college employee, wheeled out a grand piano. I nursed a sudden, private hope that this big fellow would reveal himself as Cat Power, busting out the hits on the Steinway.

But the real Cat Power arrived, a self-effacing wisp next to that giant piano (which went unused). She endured great waves of applause, sat on a stool and strummed. It was the quietest thing I have ever heard. To be fair, I didn't make it through the whole set. After the first 10 or 15 notes I got bored and left on shoes whose soles seemed, suddenly, to squeal like two wild boars just waking from deep anesthesia. I crossed through the outer hallway, cautious of the ghostly, gnashing head of Mabel Bridges, out of the building, across the several hundred foot Marston Quadrangle and into the student rec center, playing a few rounds of Zero Gunner until I grew fearful that the game's blips might drown out the performance across the campus grounds.

I took a walk. The menace of shadows cast by streetlight is, in Claremont, all illusion. Rare is the police chopper that hovers over this town. A friend lived here for over a decade and never locked her door. Claremont on this night was serene, breezy, room temperature. But, of course, it's like that every night of the year. Peering over hedges and white picket fences, I tried my hardest to recall what it was about this part of the country that had me so bothered ten years ago. What is it about this state that so galls the rest of the nation? What's not to like?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tweakers Vs. Shredders (2004)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, Feb. 17 - This originally appeared in Punk Planet # 61.

TWEAKERS VS SHREDDERS

Bred for destruction, the Aurora AS702MX shredder looks like an expensive German breadmaker. A polite notice above the automatic intake alerts the user that it can eat “maximum 7 sheets paper only”, as if this number were something to be ashamed of. Above this, there is a discrete slot for credit cards. The shreddings drop into a metal basket with a soft chime, like pine needles falling into underbrush.

The Aurora replaces my old Achiever PP5/2 “personal paper shredder”, a more proletarian hardshell plastic thing that got me through some rough times in the 1990's. It was on this machine that I first inhaled the intoxicating scent of sliced paper, first felt the gratitude of destroying collection agency notices sent on behalf of a former therapist. Many failed short stories and bad column drafts and unspeakable lyrics were fed to this machine. Only in 2002, after eight years of faithful service, did the Achiever finally make a stuffed groan one night and die as it lived, destroying evidence. I placed the dead shredder on a high shelf in the closet (later to sit next to its understudy, a $5 Achieve knockoff that conked out on its maiden voyage). In a perfect world they would make a very large, very scary shredder for the sole purpose of shredding broken shredders.

The new AS702MX is a cross cutter, and this difference is important. Strip cut shredders slice in vertical lines, leaving tantalizing clues, like thousands of skinny jigsaw pieces. If one feeds a piece of paper the wrong way into a strip-cutter, entire sentences and phone numbers can survive its blades. The Iranians are still piecing together 25 year old shredded documents fished out the US embassy, slowly recovering state secrets. Cross cutters, in contrast, make two simultaneous cuts - horizontal and vertical. What fills the basket is confetti, as useful for ID thieves as an urn of ashes. I've come to understand the sheer joy of negation that drove Ollie North to jam his own shredders during Contragate.

But things have changed since Ollie's day. Meth has followed crack into the heartland. The future has arrived and it belongs to the tweakers. And where crack detracted, creating only more crackheads, meth bestows its followers with powers of heightened concentration and patience. There is now a vast underworld composed of people who can sit comfortably for days or weeks sifting through bank statements and medical records and ATM receipts, temporarily several powers more observant than I am. Without the destructive capabilities of the Aurora I’d be lost. It is serious business. No crumb on the paper trail is too insignificant.


During a recent week's haul of incriminating evidence, for example, I shredded the following;
- An untouched and undated city of Pomona job application, question four ("police officer applicants only, are you at least 20 years and 9 months of age?") reminding me that there was an afternoon a year ago when I had seriously considered applying to become a cop, the only city job available to someone without a college degree. I think I'd convinced myself I could do this job ironically, my sarcasm so thorough and so deeply penetrating as to be invisible to the other members of the training academy. No way is anyone else going to get their hands on this. Shred.
- Lyrics and mixing notes for an LP that never came out, ripe for blackmail in some way I can’t quite decipher. Shred.
- A letter from a guy in Italy who got stiffed on a 7” my band was supposed to record years ago, highly incriminating. Shred.
- Forms from Apple One, the temp agency who got me a one day paid gig last year, sitting in a room quietly, drinking coffee and staring at a telephone with a lumpy heart. What would someone on meth make of that afternoon? Shred.
- A fake, junk mail check from a mortgage company for $46,209, which I fed the Aurora nervously, despite the large THIS IS NOT A CHECK imprint, hopefully not making a dreadful mistake. Shred.
- A pathetic tally of band shirts sold on tour four years ago (IN – 4, MI – 2, OH – jackpot! – 11) that made me appear uncharismatic and unelectable. Shred.
- A flyer from a New Years Eve 1997 concert after which I quit music forever, this bad memory coded in the artwork so as to be instantly accessible to anyone high on their own neurotransmitters. Shred.
- Two letters from bands to my defunct record label, already ceremoniously ripped in half so that their badly written PR became cryptic prose ("and methodically crushing all lesser / legions of fans from coast to / intense metal onslaught that will liquefy"). Shred.
- A scrap of paper that read FUCKING HILARIOUS in someone else’s handwriting. Shred.
- A Hawaiian Airlines Visa Platinum "Acceptance Card", bearing a sexy silhouette of a hula dancer, that, along with a flimsier plastic Household Bank silver Mastercard "Acceptance Card", seemed ready made for some speed-deranged seventh grader to use for a wild weeklong spending binge. And who picks up the tab? Not me; Shred.
- An accidental blank sheet of paper, even this somehow incriminating. Shred.

Halfway through, I hit the motherlode. A ripped scrap read “your PIN for cash access is 9155”. Below this, I found the Federal Tax ID # of my old business and a notice from Domain Registry Of America listing the exact day my website ownership expires. Worse still, just below this strata I found old diary notes from tours past kept in a scribbled shorthand that was meant to render the writing indecipherable to thieves and peekers. That's embarrassing, but it's all academic now. Because I shredded that shit.

Then there are the receipts. These are the worst, so tiny they must delivered one by one into the gnashing gears, each a fragile window onto the core of my personality. There are many of them. I used to think I generated so many receipts on account of I don't wear a watch, and the best way to tell time in public is to check the printouts on the bottom of receipts. I understand now there is something a bit more pathological at work. Florida senator Bob Graham was ridiculed last year for keeping an obsessively detailed journal of his life, complete with all daily expenditures, no matter how mundane. I understand this journal now. It's addictive. I don't want to part with these mementos of transactions past, but what choice to do I have? How would I be able to live with myself if other people knew that I ate something called a “lentil loaf” on 6/9/02? That, on 12/11/02, my business checking account stood at $12.74? That, on 12/24/02 at 4:46 in a Publix food mart in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida I bought Twizzlers, a 6 pack of Evians, 2 chocolate Yoo Hoos, a Florida map, a tube of Powerpuff Girls toothpaste, and something suspiciously labeled B SHOP MUESLI? That my cashier was named Denise? That the bottom of a Pizza Pirate receipt reads only AAAARRRRGGGHHHH MATEY as it is fed into the jaws of death, erasing all proof that I purchased a particular pizza from a particular driver on a particular date, forever and ever and ever until the universe collapses in on itself??

Friday, February 13, 2009

Why Is Erika Anderson's Office Such A Mess? (2004)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, Feb. 13 - This originally appeared in the Spring 2004 KSPC Program Guide.

WHY IS ERIKA ANDERSON’S OFFICE SUCH A MESS?

Anderson, the 22-year old KSPC music director from Sioux Falls, SD, blames everyone but herself in this matter, and her arguments almost hold water. A lot of records are released (200,000 + CD titles last year, nearly 750 million units), each record demands a dignified hearing, the cleaning crew “have it out” for her and so on and so on. It’s a heartbreaking tale of toil and anti-midwesterner discrimination (until, of course, one considers the outrageous clutter of her Hyundai V6).

The office in question is part of the larger KSPC complex, housed just opposite the gamelan room in the bomb-shelterish basement of Thatcher Music Building. Anderson is here on a Wednesday afternoon, surveying the day’s debris. A woman’s voice can be heard practicing scales down the hall. Two postal cartons of padded mailers compete for floor space with several overflowing trash bins and small stacks of snacks and promotional materials. CDs are everywhere. She tries to explain her filing techniques. “This pile is ‘freaks’”, she says. “This is ‘metal’.” Over a larger mass of several hundred disks she waves her hand like a magic wand - as if this motion could somehow make it all go away – saying “this is stuff that promo companies send me.”

There are gems for the diligent. Anderson plays bits from the week’s catches; 1) Nellie McKay’s “Get Away from Me” (Sony) in which the artist rambles for minutes at a time before each track, 2) Diane Marie Kloba’s conga-heavy “I Kid You Not” (Striped Shirt records), 3) Andrew Octopus’ enigmatic “Time Travel Is Possible” (self released). The stereo - a Stanton STR8-80 turntable, a Technics receiver, something called a “Rolls” CD player - has the hand-me-down look of a 13 year old girl’s hi-fi.

Two rooms over can be found weathered KSPC playlists from 1967 (Doors, Jackie Wilson, Joan Baez), and 1976 (Chick Corea, Uriah Heep, Paul Butterfield) that hark back to the days when radio was innocent. Above us, higher than the fire hazard promotional ceiling danglies and the two stories of Thatcher Music Building above that and the gorgeous southern California midday sky even beyond that, the liver-colored nipple of Janet Jackson hangs heavy over all of modern broadcasting. A single slipped cuss before 9:59 PM can, under proposed FCC guidelines, net the station upwards of a half million dollars in fines. Music Director is the first, best line of defense against the S and F words that creep into our nation’s independent music supply. It is a high pressure position.

A young intern named Gregor enters, and he says there’s still space for my article in the Program Guide if I can get the piece to him by Monday. But where will he fit? There’s no room in this office. Computers and fax machines hog the three desks that have been barbarically stuffed into this 5’ by 8’ cupboard of a workspace. It is impossible for anyone to turn around with knocking over CD jewel cases. When I suggest she should get some shelves, Anderson replies, sadly, “I should get some shelves.” And yet this poses its own problems. Where could a shelf fit that some bit of station history wouldn’t be obliterated? The walls are covered in stickers, drawings, promo posters (The Pop Group, Delta 72, IQU, US Maple) and promo photos (Lightning Bolt, Quiet Riot, Wolf Master, Josh Holmes Band). Taped to the east wall, a letter from a J____ of Tucson, AZ, informs us that he has “landed back in jail over some murder charges” and wants his notes read over the air, on a now defunct heavy-metal show; “A reign of darkness is in the boiling, and the spirits are craving to witness a metal onslaught like never before known, let the skies darken from the wings of demons and the rivers run red from the sheeple [sic?] of society.”

The phone rings, a curious two-tone bell that sounds like someone has left the door open on a particularly fruity European automobile. This is bad. Phone calls are often from uphappy publicists who, already maddened by the crushing futility of their profession, now have to suffer the indignity of Anderson politely “passing” on yet another of their releases. The scorned try to work in quick jabs before they can be dispatched. Answering is a thankless task.
“You start to second guess your judgments,” Anderson explains. “Things start to sound the same, or you start judging a CD by its cover.” She examines a random promo with distaste. “Sexist and bad crap gets tossed.” She places this disk discretely in the “for next semester” cabinet.

“It’s not about music, it’s about… meta music” she continues, again waving her hand in that wishful Clutter-Be-Gone motion. “It’s about what compels this particular person to have made this particular recording.” She stops for a moment, seemingly hypnotized by the shiny bedlam at her feet. There is a sigh. “Only 10 to 20 women musicians in this entire pile.”

A commotion in the lobby. We find a campus groundskeeper holding a single pink rose. “You looked so sad when you got out of your car this morning”, he explains to a motionless Anderson. I take this as my cue to exit, hurrying back down the long hallway of overheard prodigies and locked tuba cabinets. I emerge back on the sunny street, ready to reenter the sheeple of society, none the wiser.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Grief On Mute (2002)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, Feb. 7 - This originally posted on vermiform.com, 1/28/02

For those of you not familiar with the greatest homage to New York ever to pose as a neo-western to pose as an apocalyptic sci-fi action-flick, I direct your attention to a special screening of 1981's "Escape from New York" playing at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood this Sunday, January 27th. Oops, you can't go. That's because it was yesterday. Which means you also won't be able to find me in the second row, head tilted back, mouth agape for the third and presumably last time I will ever be able to see this fine film on the big screen.

Audiences at the Egyptian are a special breed. At any given showing, a normal citizen such as myself can sit surrounded by an extraordinarily high percentage of writers, editors, producers, gaffers, studio agents and incognito moguls. This means a certain freedom from the annoyances that have made most 21st century mall megaplex outings so god damned fucking intolerable - no rif raff, no screaming babies, no hostile farting or fighting children or people talking on cell phones during the film (all endured in the last month, sometimes all at one movie). It's generally a much more appreciative crowd. But a crowd that nonetheless brings its own fawning irritations... applause at each character's entrance, loud whispers about the poor quality of the print.

So the audience cheered most of the opening credits - Ernest Borgnine, Kurt Russell, Adrienne Barbeau, big hoots and applause when Isaac Hayes' name came up. And there was laughter at dated references to 1988 and 1997 in the opening titles. People also laughed during the scene when Air Force One is hijacked by a terrorist bent on crashing the plane into New York - mostly at feeble attempts made to break down the cockpit door, the mechanics of which most Americans are now intimately versed in. But there was merely silence at the shot of a hijacked jet soaring towards the World Trade Towers. Having seen this film several dozen times, I had wondered what a 2002 audience would think of the scene. What could we think of it? Only when Hollywood inevitably makes its own version of a Sept. 11 film will any movie come as close to capturing this particular trauma. And since the Californians didn't laugh at any of the New Yorker insider jokes (like references to the 69th st. bridge), I doubt anyone felt the same muted heartbreak that I did just seeing those buildings up on the screen.

When is this feeling going to fade? After the next siege? The mechanics of mass terrorism probably dictate assaults of increasing violence separated by longer and longer intervals. Over eight years separated the first and second WTC attacks. Some of this normality is built on secret coincidences and luck we rarely have insight into and are powerless to change. The same presidential pretzel attack that formally ended the Weird Period could just as easily have gone the other way. Can anyone imagine what the last two weeks would have been like if George W had choked to death, alone and unmourned in his private chambers?

Dated science fiction is always more fun after the expiration date. Discussion of postdated errors was certainly one of the few tolerable points of the Q&A after the last picture I saw at the Egyptian (the brutal 5 hour cut of Wim Wender's "Until The End Of the World", which imagined a 1999 without internet or cell phones). But the repeated interior and exterior shots of the WTC brought to mind what has occurred in just the last four and a half months. The Afghan death toll, by all accounts, has now surpassed the 9/11 death toll. 40,000 New Yorkers, born since September 11, will rely solely on our accounts of the event. Things continue and accrue. Just in the last 139 days, Over 400 million new web pages have been posted to the internet, 33 billion photos have been shot, 800 billion emails have been sent. The relentless, hallucinatory pace of the planet would have staggered any sci-fi filmmaker back in 1981.

Director John Carpenter answered questions after the film. He talked some about New York in the 70's, casting decisions, the energy levels of a 54 year old director. When the inevitable question about 9/11 came, it was such an obvious fumble that all Carpenter could offer were vague pleasantries. What was there to say? We left the theater and emerged into the kind of noirish downpour that seemed to signify something. As of this writing, it is not known if anyone stayed for the second feature, "Big Trouble In Little China".

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Misery Index (2002)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, Feb 4 - This originally posted on vermiform.com, 2/4/02.

Unless something tragic happens in the next 48 hours, Ronald Reagan will have survived another year. A quiet one, too. Last year's 90th birthday coincided with a serious hip injury, setting off fresh speculation over the man's coordinates on his long slide into oblivion. Nancy Reagan firmly denied that Ron had hurt himself trying to stand and salute while overhearing their gardener whistle "God Bless America". Such is the nature of Alzheimer's. We never know what's going on in the confines of the Reagan ranch the same way Nancy never knows what's going on in the confines of the Reagan brain. All of us can only make educated guesses. And even if the gardener story is apocryphal, this grim image - RWR as a broken robot, receiving the occasional, faint signal on his damaged transceiver - neatly highlights the unlikely irony of Reagan's decline. These days it's his friends and family who wish him a speedy death, his bitterest foes who toast the man's longevity. The disease that many of us wouldn't wish on our worst enemy has befallen the man some of us once considered our worst enemy. Drooling and diaper jokes can only make so many rounds before both listener and teller are implicated as cads, or worse.

Alzheimer's is a nasty way to die. So nasty that it's fair to say Ron has vaulted past the charts of American presidential death and into the ranks of Top Ten Wretchedest Ends Of National Leaders. This puts him in the company of Liberia's Samuel Doe (mutilated and tortured to death on videotape), Ottoman Sultan Osman II (killed by "compression of the testicles") and Afghanistan's Mohammad Najibullah (tortured, castrated, dragged from a jeep and hung from a traffic light by the Taliban in 1996). Humiliating ends. Yet how many of those guys had their own humiliation stretched out for seven years? According to the national Alzheimer's average, RWR still has one more year to tough it out. And remember, this is a strong guy, one who survived cancer, bullets, and the zero year curse.

I visited the Reagan Presidential Library the week of his 90th birthday. It's located in Simi Valley, past lush mountainscapes that're accessible only by the Ronald Reagan Freeway. A lumpy, oversized statue of the Great Communicator greeted tourists at the entrance. In the lobby hung a wall of birthday cards a New Jersey teacher had forced her 4th grade class to design and sign. Wandering its halls, I was treated to a rare occurrence: the life story of a major historical figure, as made physical by that major historical figure, while that major historical figure still walks the Earth. All the omissions (any reference to first wife Jane Wyman) and distortions (nine slim paragraphs on Iran-Contra compete with a wall of presidential china) were Reagan's own. Oddly, these remain the very memories that the disease is in the process of destroying. The damage would be similar if some huge B-Movie monster surfaced from the Santa Monica Bay, lumbered over the 101 freeway and started gnawing into the timbers and sheetrock of the museum itself.

Alzheimer's follows reverse chronology. First to be ravaged are the adult relationships and memories. Last to go are early motor skills and childhood ties. Nancy indirectly confirmed some of Ron's status in an interview with Tom Brokaw a year ago. "Every once in a while, he'll talk about Moon, his brother, and his mother, Nelle, and Jack," his father. "That's about all now." But not entirely all. The disease doesn't burn a clear swath. Debris is left and impressions remain. What fragments on display in his museum must occasionally surface in Reagan's mind? Campaign commercials? The empty suits in glass cubes? A white house kleenex dispenser? An old political cartoon of the gipper manhandling a hippie? The handmade sign in the background of a photo taken in Reagan's hospital room in 1985, reading so they took part of your intestines!??

The USS Ronald Reagan nuclear aircraft carrier will debut this Christmas. If RWR makes it to 92, this commissioning will provide some preview of the impending orgy of grief when he finally goes. We're not going to get off lightly. There are people afoot who feel that this guy deserves a Rushmore spot, or his face on the $10 bill, or a monument on the mall in DC. For once, however, it seems like the whims of mother nature will have provided everyone with a happy ending - those who will be relieved when the man's suffering finally comes to an end, and those who believe, rightly or wrongly, that the bad guy got what he deserved ten times over...

Sunday, February 1, 2009

About The Postal Exam (2005)

FROM THE ARCHIVES, Feb. 1 - This originally ran in the February, 2005 issue of Punk Planet.

ABOUT THE POSTAL EXAM

There are a few things you will need to know before you take the postal examination:

1) the exam is being held at the City Of Industry Mail Processing Center this Wednesday, February 9, at 8:30 AM.

2) You can’t park in that spot sir, you’ll need to park across the street.

3) Because page three of the exam booklet you have been mailed reads Come to the test physically and mentally prepared; Get a good night’s sleep, you will have been plagued by insomnia and nightmares of having to wash dishes naked at the Dischord House while young people laugh at you. The dog that bothered Son Of Sam will have been bothering you as well, all night long, from your neighbor’s yard. The phone will have rung, once, at 12:55 PM. In the morning, your drive down CA-60 will have been made in the haze of the undead. When news comes on the radio – virtuous anti-Nazi boxer Max Schmeling, dead at 99, is hailed as “a good man”; Christo’s “The Gates” installation wows millions in New York; the L.A. hotel workers union seeks to boost their bargaining power - every story will point irrefutably towards your own artistic and moral insignificance. This can be corrected by getting a good score on your postal exam.

Inside the testing center, your first peek ever behind the curtain of representative democracy, you will discover that America has secretly been governed by East Germany all these years. You will be lead down bleak hallways, past a picture of a man with a zippered mouth reading “testing in progress” that you will momentarily mistake for an Amnesty International poster. The safety glass of nearby offices, reinforced with hexagonal wire mesh, seems an ominous bit of overkill. Are they expecting violence? In the test room you will find rows of battered card tables and the cheapest sort of plastic furniture and a worn podium flanked by an American and a POW-MIA flag. You will suffer the distinct feeling of having been hauled in for detention (either Guantánamo or junior high).

But the test doesn’t scare you. You have a secret weapon; the Memory Palace of 16th century Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci. Hannibal Lector uses one of these in Thomas Harris’s Hannibal. Yours is modeled after the 98-acre Empire State Plaza, in Albany, NY, and although you really haven’t been keeping up with the years of intensive rigorous mental exercise a memory palace demands, you have full confidence that this mnemonic leverage will give you the edge over your fellow applicants. In a strange coincidence, the Plaza’s architect George Dudley has just passed away, not two days ago, at 90. You like to think that you too will be passing away at such a ripe old age, only in scale; medical advances of the 21st century will ensure that the human life span is extended tenfold, giving you until 2869 to make your mark on society. This test, taken in the mere preamble of your long, 900 year life, will be a breeze.



Today is Ash Wednesday. What does it say about the demographics of the postal system that no ashy foreheads are in attendance? Does the USPS discriminate against practicing Christians? A paranoia will grip you. What are you thinking, coming to this test physically and mentally unprepared, not having gotten a good night’s sleep? You will remember something the late Tim Yohannon once told you about arriving for his Vietnam physical “zonked out” on no sleep with “shit” rubbed in his hair. Is that what you are trying to do here? Flunk the physical? You calm down; you don’t have shit in your hair. Everything will be fine. You will be gripped with a sudden and intense desire to not disappoint your friends or family or the POW-MIA’s still languishing in bamboo prisons overseas (earlier, when you called J___ of the Rah Bras, hours after $20,000 worth of equipment had been stolen from their locked van in Brooklyn, NY, the very first thing he had said was did you take the test?).

Forms will be dispensed and you will understand that your memory palace mind-tricks are useless here. This will not be that kind of a test. Your lucky pencils from the Carter and LBJ Presidential libraries impress no one and they might not even be number 2 pencils. You raise your hand in panic. Are these number two pencils? A lady will come to your seat and look at your pencils with disgust. A stern man who clearly has served in all three branches of the armed service as well as the state police reads from a short preamble, and then the test has begun.

In part A, Address Checking, you will suffer some confusion. These addresses bear no similarity to the addresses in the sample question booklet you studied at home. Where are Warnock St, and Girard road, and Markland Ave? A fat guy seated not quite directly opposite you will whisper wetly to himself, smashing your concentration. He has a “postalish” look. So does everyone else seated at your table. Do you share this look? You urgently try to picture your own face. Put your pencils down; this part of the test has concluded.

During section B, Memory For Addresses, you will consider randomly coloring in each oval. It worked on your SATs. But how could it have, if you are here? Several times you will notice that Whispering Fat Man has finished before you. He has something to prove. Clearly he will be incapable of the sorting, delivery, and collecting of all classes of mail up to 70 pounds. 70 pounds is a lot of weight. So what is he trying to prove? During Part C, Number Series, you will find yourself wondering, am I a veteran, or the mother of a veteran? If so, you can be awarded preference points. By the time you are on D, Following Oral Instructions, you will find yourself thinking maybe you can at least get a column out of this. Weeks later, you actually do write a column about this experience and you will be tempted to title this column, “Goin’ Postal”. Avoid that temptation.

4) You are going to make the best postman ever.