Archive for the ‘High-falutin’ literary matters’ Category

Time travel

October 8, 2022

Truckin’, like the doo-dah man.

• Editor’s note: It’s a gray, gloomy day here at El Rancho Pendejo, and Hal Walter’s road-trip tale has put me in mind of my own meditation from the spring of 2000, when the vile Crusty County weather had me thinking about snorting that long white line to wherever.

“I have been buggered to near death by the clock.” — Jim Harrison in “The Beige Dolorosa,” from the novella collection “Julip”

“How do I shut this alarm off?” my wife asked some years back. Her sports watch was cheeping incessantly, like a baby bird in a sack of crack.

“Like this,” I replied, snatching the watch from her, placing it on the kitchen floor and pounding it into a flattened silence with a claw hammer. We both laughed, but warily; killing time just isn’t that easy.

Still, when you see time limping along like it does in a snowbound April in the Colorado mountains, scraping the slush off its boots on the welcome mat of spring, there arises a murderous desire to put it out of its misery. So Shannon has begun hiding the hammers as I glare at the clock, as if I could will its crawling hands into picking up the pace, spinning me up some sunshine.

• • •

“We’re going to be late,” I warned my friends Hal and Mary as we dawdled first over stout, then over coffee, in a succession of Bibleburg bistros. It was my 46th birthday, and we were headed to Colorado College for a poetry reading by one of my favorite authors, Jim Harrison. Harrison seems the sort to bark at nitwits who interrupt his work, and I wanted his autograph, not his antipathy.

Jim Harrison laid his Jim Hancock on my copy of “Warlock,” though it was not among his favorite works.

As it turned out, we were right on time, and Harrison was late. A student of Zen Buddhism with his own temporal compulsions, Harrison announced: “I’m not a long reader. This will be exactly 52 minutes.” A koan for a birthday present.

Frankly, I’d have settled for a little less light and a little more warmth. Spring brings Colorado the heavy snows that we used to get in winter like everybody else, and the way my mental batteries were running down under the gray-flannel skies had me convinced that I was solar-powered.

My last escape attempt, a mid-March road trip to a cycling festival in California, was too short and not nearly sweet enough. I’ve been contemplating another to someplace where the locals’ knowledge of snow is limited to what they’ve been able to glean from the Encyclopedia Britannica, but you can’t pilot a Toyota truck to the Virgin Islands, not even in four-wheel drive.

And then there’s the expense. The rising price of gasoline aside, it’s not always possible or desirable to sleep in a pickup, which lacks certain amenities — like a toilet, shower, sink, stove, furnace and elbow room, especially when the camper shell is stuffed fore to aft with a bicycle, a cooler full of beer and a day pack crammed with computer gear and drawing tools.

Even if you pack camping gear and spend your nights outside the truck, you’re doomed to an occasional Motel 666 if for no other reason than hygiene, an impulse that will cost you anywhere from $30 to $60 a pop, depending upon your ZIP code at the time.

So lately I’ve been eyeballing used RVs and wondering whether I’m old enough to own one. This is not unlike like cigar-smoking; you have to be of a certain age to pull it off without looking ridiculous.

Too, as a cyclist who has played mirror-tag with many a blue-haired land-yacht captain over the years, the notion leaves me feeling a little like a Lakota warrior applying to join Custer’s 7th Cavalry.

And the entry fee for the RV lifestyle is a high curb to hop — even an elderly, smallish Toyota RV can run from five to ten large, while free-lance cycling journalism pays on the small side.

• • • 

In the essay “Going Places,” from his collection “Just Before Dark,” Harrison advises: “Do not scorn day trips. You can use them to avoid nervous collapse.” So with a light snow falling and the promise of more on the way, I jumped into my ’83 Toyota 4WD and headed north to talk to a guy who had a used, slide-in, pop-up camper for sale.

As I bounced crazily down our steep, corrugated goat path to the county road — this truck, which under a previous owner carried a camper, has springs apparently salvaged from a buckboard — I realized I’d forgotten my watch. A moment of dismay, then satori; I had more than enough time to make the noon appointment, and there was nothing of pressing urgency requiring a timepiece, so screw it.

So, after checking out the camper — affordable and nicely minimalist, with a cabover bed, a small sink and stove, a pedestal table and bench, and a furnace — I spent the afternoon idling around downtown Bibleburg, where it was not snowing, the roads were paved, and distractions were available in variety.

Drank a pint of Guinness and ate a burger in Jack Quinn’s; looked for Harrison books in the cavernous used-book store Gateways; sipped a tall Americano in a Starbucks staffed by two pleasant young women chattering away like magpies. Then I took my sweet time getting home, and not just because I was following a snowplow and an 18-wheeler up a slushy Hardscrabble Cañon.

Again, Harrison, in “The Beige Dolorosa” from “Julip”: “The clock is the weapon with which we butcher our lives.”

The character who writes this line on an index card — an academic rebelling against the tyranny of the clock as he comes to terms with a vastly altered life — then wraps his watch around the cord of his Big Ben electric clock and dangles both in the toilet, flushing and laughing.

He continues: “The damnable watch still worked. I put it on the floor, stepped up on the toilet seat and jumped, smashing the watch to bits. It occurred to me that I was getting a little excitable, so I took the remnants of the two timepieces outside and peed on them to complete the scene appropriately. I reached back in the cabin and turned off the light, the better to see the stars. They were so dense they made the sky look flossy, almost a fog of stars which had drawn infinitely closer to me than ever before, as if my destruction of time had made me a friendlier object for their indeterminate powers.”

Smash your watches. Pee on your clocks. Go look at the stars.

R.I.P., Barbara Ehrenreich

September 2, 2022

She took what they were giving ’cause she was working for a living.

Barbara Ehrenreich, the journalist, activist, and author who never lost touch with her working-class roots, has clocked out. She was 81.

Her New York Times obit draws from the introduction to “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America,” in which she recounts wondering with a magazine editor how the unskilled survive on the wages paid them and then blurting out something that she “had many opportunities to regret: ‘Someone ought to do the old-fashioned kind of journalism — you know, go out there and try it for themselves.'”

Which is exactly what Ehrenreich did, of course, working and living as a waitress, hotel maid, nursing-home aide, and Walmart “associate,” among other things. Then she came back and told us all about it.

And though she would be writing it up, she wasn’t phoning it in:

People knew me as a waitress, a cleaning person, a nursing home aide, or a retail clerk not because I acted like one but because that’s what I was, at least for the time I was with them. In every job, in every place I lived, the work absorbed all my energy and much of my intellect. I wasn’t kidding around. Even though I suspected from the start that the mathematics of wages and rents were working against me, I made a mighty effort to succeed.

She was not, and is not, alone. And in her Evaluation at the end of the book, Ehrenreich proposed that those of us who live in comfort while others barely scrape by should feel not just guilt, but shame.

When someone works for less pay than she can live on — when, for example, she goes hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently — then she has made a great sacrifice for you, she has made you a gift of some part of her abilities, her health, and her life.

What a gift was Ehrenreich’s life. Peace unto her, her family, friends, and readers.

Green Hills of Albuquerque

April 8, 2021

Descending Tramway Road to Tramway Boulevard.

Down, down, to Goblin-town, you go, my lad!

Well, not exactly. There’s some gobblin’ at the corner of Tramway Road and Tramway Boulevard, all right, but it involves barbecue at The County Line.

The place smells wonderful when your snotlocker works, which mine mostly does not, thanks to seasonal allergies (oak, cottonwood, juniper, mulberry, grass, etc.).

Between being all boogered up and tweaking my lower back the other day I have been in something of a mood. Maybe watching part one of the Hemingway documentary on PBS last night helped a bit. Wasn’t anyone pulling a couple hundred bits of shrapnel out of my legs in an Italian hospital, and I’ve managed to hang on to my first wife, too. So, yeah, winning, an’ shit.

True, global literary fame has proven elusive, but that’s not exactly a surprise. My agent warned me against titling my debut novel “A Farewell to Arfs.”

‘What boots it,’ indeed

July 17, 2019

These boots are made for earning.

In the August 2019 issue of The Atlantic, Michael LaPointe muses at some length on “The Unbearable Smugness of Walking,” as performed by the literati.

Following his examination of two recent books arguing for “walking’s invigorating literary power” and capacity for resistance to “the desire of those in power that we should participate in growing the GDP … as well as the corporate desire that we should consume as much as possible and rest whenever we aren’t doing so,” LaPointe wonders whether, for the writer, walking to work is really nothing more than another day at the office, albeit a larger, airier one.

And he poses the question: “What would it mean, for once, simply to walk and say nothing about it?”

What it would mean, Michael old sock, is that you would not get paid.

“Ah, fill the Cup:—what boots it to repeat
How Time is slipping underneath our Feet. …

It can happen here

November 5, 2016
Impressionist, que no? I shot it through the window. Hey, it's raining out there. You want I should get a camera wet for free?

Impressionistical, que no? I shot it through the window. Hey, it’s raining out there. You want I should get a camera wet for free?

We’ve finally gotten a little rain after the second warmest October on record, and maybe one of the driest, too; more than a quarter inch of precip’ below normal.

As with most things, this is both good and bad.

The good? When things are wet, they often fail to catch fire. Also, water is nice for drinking, bathing and growing things to look at and/or eat.

The bad? Sitting as it does at the bottom of a cul-de-sac at the western edge of a mountain range, El Rancho Pendejo is already a little on the dark side, as is my outlook most days. And when the sun goes away for a spell, things in these parts can get blacker than a sleeping MacBook’s display.

So with each fresh poll the equivalent of a cherry bomb in a chicken coop I’m getting a mild case of The Fear as the 2016 election staggers to a close.

Anybody who tells you s/he knows that all will be well in the end is full of shit to the sideburns. Americans are already pretty la-di-da about exercising their franchise, our least-difficult path toward effecting change, armed insurrection being slightly more onerous (or so I’m told). And the GOP has been busily scratching that oh-hell-why-bother itch by turning what should be the simple act of casting a ballot into the sort of customer-service experience we already enjoy in the private sector.

Here’s Charles P. Pierce on the voter-suppression battles being waged from coast to coast.

Here’s Ari Berman of The Nation on the reduction in polling places following the gutting of the Voting Rights Act by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Here’s The Guardian reporting on the upshot of Insane Clown Pussy’s call for his shock troops to monitor what he’s said will be a “rigged” election.

Can't it? We'll see.

Can’t it? We’ll see.

And so on. Look around, you’ll find more examples.

The Republic has weathered a lot of storms, and this may be nothing more than an especially nasty stretch of rough weather before the sun pops out again.

But I keep thinking back to the old Red Lewis novel “It Can’t Happen Here,” which I read ages ago, and which the Berkeley Repertory Theatre turned into a play, which wraps tomorrow.

If you haven’t read the book, do so. The language is a little dated, and it can seem wildly over the top at times. But so can this election, and yet there it is, happening right before your eyes.

“It Can’t Happen Here” certainly opened the eyes belonging to writer-director Tony Taccone, who called the parallels between the fictional struggle and Election 2016 “shocking; they’re honestly shocking.”

“What it says, what it really puts out there is, if you become complacent or lazy or you think that the issues that are being discussed in Washington, the politics doesn’t have an effect on your lives, you’re wrong. You’re wrong. The decisions that are being made — by the Congress, by the Supreme Court, by the local legislature, by your city council — affect your life,” Taccone said.

“And it is in your interest to understand as best you can what those issues are, to try to find a voice and agency inside of those issues, to find a community and help them to build a dialogue,” he added. “And my God, if that isn’t the lesson of the last nine months, what is?”

So you think it can’t happen here? Read the book, take a good look around, and get back to me.

Creative class warfare

June 21, 2014
The Turk' enjoyed some backyard time while I cleaned a bike in honor of the summer solstice.

The Turk’ enjoyed some backyard time while I cleaned a bike in honor of the summer solstice.

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy. Just ask the Turk’, who enjoyed a little outside time in the Mad Dog Media Botanical Gardens, a.k.a. “Weedpatch,” as I washed a bike in honor of the solstice.

Shortly thereafter it began raining off and on, with thunder for flavor, and the feline outings, bicycle riding and Old North End Garage Sale took back seats to working and earning.

Speaking of which, I can see I’ve been going about the latter activities all wrong. Clarity is so 15 minutes ago. If a guy could only learn to deploy with a straight face semantically null phrases such as “further leverage,” “cultural and creative assets,” “place of choice,” “launching new ideas” and “preserving our rich cultural heritage,” why, People of Money would write us fat checks for doing absolutely nothing beyond talking authoritatively and incomprehensibly out of our asses.

Toward that end I’m pleased to announce the formation of the Caramillo Street Collective for Creative Obfuscation, whose sole purpose it shall be to talk shit for money. I know, that sounds an awful lot like what I already do, but trust me, this is a radical departure from business as usual at Chez Dog. It’s a means of further leveraging my cultural and creative assets from my place of choice to launch new ideas that preserve my rich cultural heritage.

Somebody owes me $20K now.

• Speaking of talking shit: Here’s Timothy Noah on the ethics of dog-crap disposal.

Ass, grass or gas: Nobody rides for free

November 9, 2013

It’s that time of year again, when I start ringing up editors to inquire whether come the new year they will keep flinging good money after bad by continuing to accept contributions from Your Humble Narrator.

This process always involves a bit of give and take — the editor explains what s/he wishes to take from me, and I tell the editor where and how I plan to give it. A good old time is had by all, often at the top of our lungs, and before long the spreadsheets, knuckle-dusters and restraining orders are set aside and we all go back to earning our meager livings.

bite-meAnd meager is all I ask. My needs are simple, not unlike myself, and I retain no illusions about the freelance rumormonger’s position on our long list of must-have items in the 21st century. (Hint: It’s more than a couple of folds down from the top of the page.)

Today, there is no more writing, illustration or photography — it’s all “content,” and a smart fella can get that anywhere.

Just ask Evan Williams, Twitter co-founder and Innertubez gazillionaire. Now one of the guiding lights behind a newish venture, Medium, Williams has moved beyond the 140-character limit in search of “thoughtful, longer-form writing,” says Matt Richtel of The New York Times.

Well, not all that far, perhaps. To be sure, Williams wants more characters for his new enterprise, but he’s offering the same level of compensation — to wit, nothing. Writes Richtel, 745 words into this paean to long-form work: “A few writers are paid, with their work solicited by a small editing team, but most are not.”

Do tell.

Medium employs some 40 folks; I assume that they are taking home paychecks, though being an Innertubez gazillionaire, Williams — whose personal fortune recently ballooned by nearly $2.5 billion, thanks to his 10.5 percent share of Twitter — may not require anything so mundane as compensation for whatever it is that he does.

Well, I do, and thus you should not expect to see my byline over at Medium anytime soon.

I don’t object to writing for free. In fact, I’ve done and continue to do plenty of it.  I kept a journal for a decade or so; covered cycling for free at The New Mexican (where I was paid for editing) just to get it in the paper; and have been blogging gratis for longer than I can prove (the archives back at the old home place date to 1992).

But it seems Williams is after something a little deeper than the product of a guy who is interested primarily in keeping the old editorial muscles loose by jotting down whatever comes to mind, just for the hell of it, without interference from editors, publishers or advertisers. Though precisely what that something is, the story never quite says.

There is chin music aplenty, however. Long form. Rationality. Nourishment. Holistic. The one thing that seems certain is that whatever it is that Williams wants to sell, he is not willing to buy.

Sounds irrational to me, even assholistic. Hey, yo, Williams! I got your long-form nourishment right here, pal.

Have a ‘Heart’

August 2, 2013
Ed's first collection of his Denver Post columns.

Ed’s first collection of his Denver Post columns.

Ed Quillen left the party way too early.

Every time some greedhead with a talent for skinning the rubes floats a Barnumesque balloon full of canned farts and damned little else, I miss Ed and his quiver of curmudgeonly arrows.

Here’s one Ed aimed at tourism back in 1993:

“Tourism is the biggest industry in the world, and apparently it functions like any other industry — if there’s a conflict between telling the truth and making money, so much the worse for the truth.”

Writing of the perils of “health-care rationing” in 1994, Ed said:

“Here’s some news for our protectors in the U.S. Senate — unlike you, with your excellent, government-funded health plan that covers everything, most of us already have rationed health care. It’s rationed by what we can afford, or by how much our insurance companies will pay.”

And in discussing a plan to raise Colorado’s gas tax by a nickel per gallon back in 1987, Ed said the only problem he had with the concept was that it was about $9.95 short of what was needed.

A gas tax of $10 per gallon, he argued, would reduce street crime, air pollution and penny-ante tourism while giving a boost to carpooling, public transportation, cycling, walking, and something called “telecommuting,” which he confided was “how this column gets from Salida to Denver.”

“Raising the tax won’t even be a good start, though,” Ed concluded. “Get it up to $10 a gallon, and see how Colorado prospers while becoming a vastly better place to live.”

All these examples of Ed’s savvy come from his Denver Post columns circa 1985-98, compiled in the 1998 book “Deep In the Heart of the Rockies.”

Ed left us last year, but his words remain. And a new collection of Ed’s work from 1999 to 2012 is being assembled by daughter Abby Quillen, along with her husband, Aaron Thomas, Ed’s friend and colleague Allen Best, and friend of the DogS(h)ite Hal Walter of Hardscrabble Times, among others.

The book is a Kickstarter project, and if they don’t raise the minimum funds needed (a pittance of $5,500), the book won’t happen. I think it’s a thing worth doing, and have kicked in a couple of bucks.

Abby hopes to use the proceeds to fund a memorial bench, and perhaps a scholarship in Ed’s name for students interested in journalism or Colorado history.

But perhaps the best memorial to Ed would be the book itself, a reminder that the smart guys will not always be around to slap the hands of the hucksters trying to pick our pockets, or worse, and that we will have to start paying attention and raising a ruckus on our own behalf.

Going places

October 1, 2010
The Air Force Academy as seen from the New Santa Fe Trail.

The Air Force Academy as seen from the New Santa Fe Trail.

People often ask me how I can bear to live in a stony-broke garrison town full of Bible-thumpers, Birchers and boneheads, a place that can’t afford to keep its streetlights on unless you care to adopt one, where economic development seems confined to the crucial tattoo, pawnshop and medical-marijuana sectors and nearly half the respondents to a recent survey think we’re headed in the wrong direction (unless you’re ripped to the tits and pawning your deployed sister’s iPod to get some fresh ink).

I ask myself the same question every time I venture out of our little enclave northeast of Colorado College. Here the streets are wide, the trees tall and the neighbors friendly. It feels like the sort of small-town America that probably never existed beyond the confines of a black-and-white TV screen — until you head north, east or south and experience the real Bibleburg in full color, 3-D, with SurroundSound, a collaboration between Steve Spielberg and Terry Gilliam with an assist from Stephen King.

So mostly I don’t do that. Beyond the once-weekly dash north to Whole Paycheck my north-south peregrinations are generally restricted to cycling along the Pikes Peak Greenway/New Santa Fe Regional Trail, which offers a 35-mile auto-free roundtrip if taken south and a 60-mile out-and-back if ridden north. I used a portion of the trail for a time trial to the North Gate of the Air Force Academy on Tuesday and failed to medal even though I was the only contestant.

Greater cosmopolitan Bibleburg as seen from Palmer Park.

Greater cosmopolitan Bibleburg as seen from Palmer Park.

East I head mostly never, having learned in the Seventies that the real Bibleburg stops somewhere around Hancock Avenue, about six blocks from here. But I will venture in that direction as far as Palmer Park, a trail-rich, 730-acre reminder of what that side of town looked like before Bibleburg dropped trou’ for the developers. I spent an hour and a half there yesterday trying to remember how to ride a mountain bike.

This is a survival mechanism learned from Ernest Hemingway, Jim Harrison and other word-slingers who often longed to be somewhere other than where they were. “Do not scorn day trips. You can use them to avoid nervous collapse,” writes Harrison, who should know.

In fact, I feel a day trip coming on as we speak. I just put new tires on the Nobilette and I am so out of here.

Symptoms of being 55

September 8, 2009

How to tell that you are officially a geezer: You have a chat with a sportswriter colleague who tells you in all honesty that he has never heard of Ring Lardner. It’s enough to make a guy take a cold plunge and hang by his eyeteeth on a hook in a closet while counting 50 in Squinch. You know me, Al.