Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Bad Wednesday

Isolation is a terrible thing. Whether it is self-imposed or not, it has the effect of negating a part of your humanity. This is why it’s such an effective punishment and oft-used torture tactic—the human mind can and does convince itself of almost anything.

There are many places in which one can feel alone—a penthouse tower, looking down on the masses from above, a tiny, poorly lit tenement that reeks of garbage and humanity. But why is it that for many of us, the worst kind of loneliness occurs when one is surrounded by other people?

The worst part is that people seem to notice that something’s wrong, and want to help. But the more they try to help, the more one tries to explain, the worse it gets. Smile, they say, come join us. But the isolation is a shroud that hangs over you, a hood that protects you from having to function in the world outside your own head. You want to try to explain, but you can’t because you don’t know how to verbalize the chaos inside.

And so you stand there in crowded, noisy rooms and smile on cue, but you don’t really feel it. Feeling trapped inside your own head does strange things to people – makes them want to lash out at others not to ease their pain, but to feel something, anything. Some people go through their whole lives feeling this way, living and dying alone. Others take up arms against their fellow man, usually turning their weapons upon themselves as well.

Isolation does funny things to people. Some handle it better than others; some can’t handle it at all. It seems as we increase our population of the earth, we are becoming increasingly isolated from one another, each participating in our communities via computer keyboards and cellular telephone connections. Whether or not we have sought it, we have created our own solitary confinement cells from which we are seldom forced to emerge. And so we are drawn into virtual communities where we can hide behind walls and create false identities for ourselves, hiding the darkest recesses of our minds and our souls behind a façade, or worse, exposing these recesses without showing our faces.

It is an odd world we have created, an odd world we live in. Sometimes the loneliest place is a crowded room.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Things I Like Vol. 17

Ten People/Places/Things, etc. That Rock My World

1) Devils & Dust album cover shot by Anton Corbijn
2) The New York Dolls, now and forever
3) Denzel Washington
4) "Dude Looks Like a Lady" - Aerosmith
5) EZ-Pass
6) the cherry blossoms, Washington DC
8) the Hip-O Select label
9) Steven Van Zandt
10) This Divided State, film by Steven Greenstreet

Hero of the Week: Robert Reich, one of the smartest, most humane people to have served in public office

Villain of the Week: Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX), for inserting his own personal morality crisis into the tragedy that is the Schiavo case

Monday, March 21, 2005

Another BullShit Day in Suck City

Yeah, DC still sucks. And will as long as there are dull, egocentric, ideologically driven people here with no imagination, no sense of purpose other than pushing a political agenda. Congress was convened over the weekend to grandstand about an issue that bears little relevance to anything right now--the president left instructions to be awakened so he could sign the "emergency legislation"--and yet there are so many issues that are genuinely worth his time and boggles the mind. (To cite one example, thousands took to the streets this weekend to protest the war in Iraq, and yet there was next to nothing in the major papers, who were too busy covering the above "story." Go figure.)

In my youth, DC, for all its flaws, was a fun town, a forward-thinking city filled with young, vibrant people who, it seemed, only wanted to do good things, who were inspired to serve. Of course the last vestiges of that hope got smashed in 1968, when it all came crashing down...

It's an odd city--a place that assumes the character of whomever currently resides at 1600 Pennsylvania. Today it is bland and boring and whitebread and lacks vision and hope and character. The people who handed the reins of power to these folks think they are doing good work here in the Nation's Capital, but they believe what they are being fed by the sycophantic media, they are not here grappling with the horrors of the wounded at Walter Reed, the hungry and homeless and jobless right here just blocks from the Capitol's white-lit dome. Contrary to popular belief, this is a dark, dark time, and there is more on the horizon. DC is a city on the decline, and for my own sanity I must get out. I may someday return. It is fairly likely that I will, in fact--there is a part of this place that will always be with me--but for now, it is on to different, if not better things.


When I get down over all this--which is pretty much daily anymore--I seek solace in the great minds of the past. Not that bringing these people back will change anything, but returning their vision and ideas to the debate would be a good start. I read this again today and remembered what this country once stood for and someday will again:

"To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required--not because the communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich."
--John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961

Sunday, March 20, 2005

I Don't Want to Go Home

I was in the East Village at the Continental last night and should have been having fun seeing Walter Lure and the gang, but all I felt was sad. Sad because I could see it disappearing before my eyes. Blondie was playing on the P.A, and every band that came on before Walter (and even he and the Waldos too) was trying way too hard to be the Ramones or the Dolls, and it was just wrong. It felt like a museum and I felt like a museum piece. It's a feeling that Marty Scorsese captured very well in his (flawed but fascinating) "Gangs of New York." At the end, the last shot you see is the graves of the people he's depicted in the film, people you've grown to care about, and he shows the passage of time, pulls back the camera and you see the NY skyline and the now dilapidated graves, and it's just overwhelmingly sad--like there's this scene and these people that you once felt so strongly about, and still do, and you feel lost and out of place because nobody cares anymore except you, nobody gets it. And you feel sad and alone and wistful. It's all gone, everything that once meant so much, and you can't bring it back. And your heart breaks.

I wasn't a part of the East Village scene, but I participated in something similar down on the Jersey Shore--the heyday of Springsteen and Southside Johnny and all those great bar bands, and those places down there where the magic happened, places that are gone or are mere shadows (as is CB's) of their former selves: The Brighton Bar, The Tradewinds, Cafe Bar, The Green Parrot, the Fastlane, and of course the Stone Pony. The latter is now a museum piece, a relic, a phony "House of Blues"/"Planet Hollywood" nightmare that people fly in from Europe and walk around and gawk at. (And sometimes, they even gawk at you.) I can't even tell you the times I had there--the nights when anything seemed possible. It was the early '80s, and you could walk up to Bruce, who would be there just to see Graham Parker or Dave Edmunds or whomever was playing there--he would be sitting in the back bar drinking a beer, and sometimes he would even come over to you and say hello if he had seen you there before. Just wanted to know what you were listening to, how things were going. And then he would jump onstage with these people and here you were and you just paid 6 bucks and you are seeing friggin' magic right before your eyes. And then you would go to the after party with whatever band was playing or just hang out all night with your friends and they would sit around and though we would never talk about how amazing it all was, we all knew it, we just knew we were a part of something special. Those were the nights you just didn't want to end because you knew they wouldn't last, and so you would stay up all night and just rehash and gossip and party till the sun came up.

And so it is going, and soon it will be gone. Like the East Village, Asbury Park (and the Shore in general) is going condo and gentrifying. There are powerful forces at work, and they are winning. And it is heartbreakingly sad, but there is nothing we can do. We are all older, and time moves on apace, but like Walter, we can't completely let go of this thing that once meant so much to us and still does. It was a big part of our lives, and it's going and we can't bring it back. Grabbing onto it too hard is self-defeating and painful and (like last night) more than a bit embarrassing. But we can't help ourselves. Because it once made us so completely happy, so truly alive, and it seems like we haven't felt that way since...

So what do we do now? We are walking anachronisms lost in a world in which we no longer belong. We are still drawn back to that time and that place. We are, at times, Fitzgerald's Gatsby, lost in the past, looking off at the green light across the water from a long distance and hoping...we are Margaret Mitchell's unforgettable Ashley Wilkes, who lives his whole life lost in a nightmare from which he can't awake. Everything he's known, anything that ever meant anything to him is gone and he can't process it, can't comprehend it. So he goes about from day to day, lost in a fog, not quite sure what to do or where to go, trapped in a brave new world that he doesn't understand and to which he cannot hope to belong. He has the look of the living dead. We can't allow ourselves to be like that, or we we might as well be dead too.

So we forge on, and hope, desperately hope, that something new and meaningful will come along, something that makes us feel like we did then. But deep down we know, don't we, that what made those times so special was the knowledge that they were irreplaceable and fleeting. And when we are lonely or sad, late at night unable to sleep, we reflect upon them and remember and we are young and beautiful and vibrantly alive again, if only for a few moments...

We were there, we really were, and we saw it, and wasn't it great?

"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
---F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Darkness Falls...

From William Pitt's Truthout blog:

"'In a time of chimpanzees, I was a monkey.'

- Beck, 'Loser' recap:

Neocon warlord Paul Wolfowitz will head the World Bank;

The White House illegally puts out fake news reports, and the Justice Department does nothing;

Another $81 billion of your money and mine is to be poured onto the Iraqi sand;

The GOP majority in Congress is preparing to trash 200 years of Senate tradition in order to post a number of certifiably insane people to the bench;

Kevin Martin, a conservative Christian activist for the GOP, will now chair the FCC;

The Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve, one of the most ecologically pristine areas remaining to us, will be paved and drilled for its tiny amount of petroleum.

And that was just yesterday."


I would add the following general comments:

The price of gas just reached a record high, and shows no signs of going down.

The issuance of White House press passes is a joke (see: Gannongate) to say nothing of a major security issue, yet the White House continues to shrug it off.

The bankruptcy bill passed this week makes it harder for average Joes to start over, and much easier for credit card companies to make obscene profits--legally.

The health care system is on the brink of collapse.

The teaching of creationism aka "perfect design" theory in schools is actually open for debate.

Anti-U.N. ghoul John Bolton is being unleashed on the world as our U.N. Ambassador.

More to come...

Selective Service?

Well, it seems the previous post has gotten people riled up. Good, that was the idea. Now let's look at the Selective Service System a little more closely. Here are some of the more, shall we say, interesting facets of this lovely entity vis-a-vis the current situation:

- The circumstances under which a draft may occur: "A crisis occurs which requires more troops than the volunteer military can supply. Congress passes and the President signs legislation which starts a draft." Well now, more troops, huh? Who gets to decide that one? Seems to me we are already scraping the bottom of the barrel with the so-called back-door draft, in which tours are being involuntarily extended for National Guardspeople. Only a matter of time before it becomes a military necessity, seems to me.

- Undocumented (illegal) aliens are required to register. And let's not forget the permanent resident aliens and special (seasonal) agricultural workers! That's right, we want you migrants and undocumented types to bend over for us one more time. It's not enough that we deny you fair wages, health insurance, etc., that our economy sucks you dry while we all look the other way. Now go lose a limb for us, dammit! Give us your tired and your we can send them to Iraq! (And of course, I don't know about you, but if I were an illegal, I sure as heck wouldn't be contacting the U.S. government for any reason.)

- Refugee, parolee, and asylee aliens must also register. So I guess if you are running from a fascist dictator and have taken refuge here, we may just send you back there in the uniform of the fabulous U.S. of A. Righteous!

- If you are physically or mentally handicapped but "able to function in public with or without assistance", you must register. Hmm, I suppose that's an ADA thing, but honestly, if I were handicapped, serving in the military wouldn't be high on my list.

- "Beliefs which qualify a registrant for Conscientious Objector status may be religious in nature, but don't have to be. Beliefs may be moral or ethical; however, a man's reasons for not wanting to participate in a war must not be based on politics, expediency, or self-interest. In general, the man's lifestyle prior to making his claim must reflect his current claims." Well now, why would you object if not for self-interest? How is this decided, and by whom? Just asking.

- "Current plans are frequently tested, evaluated, and revised as necessary. If implemented, they will guide the Selective Service System in making a smooth transition from current reduced readiness levels to full conscription within six months." Hmm, they better get crackin' on this one. Seems to me we may be needing bodies before August...

On the up side, I do see that the criteria for being drafted are a lot more equitable than those that existed during the Vietnam war. And that's a good thing. Let's just keep fingers crossed we never have to see them in action. But I'm not holding my breath...

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Devils and Dust Too, or Beware the Ides of March

“On March 31, the Selective Service System (SSS) will report to President Bush that it is ready to implement the draft within 75 days. Right now, the SSS is staffing local draft boards, training volunteer registrars to work on high school and college campuses, and streamlining its induction process. They have also gained access to the Department of Education's computer files, to ensure maximum registration.”

---from an Action Center email dated 3-15-05

Yes indeed folks, it is no longer just idle talk. The draft is coming, and it is coming soon—a matter of months, to be precise. Not satisfied with the signup rates at its recruitments centers (located primarily in low income areas), the Pentagon now wants your sons and daughters, your husbands and wives, your sisters and brothers. Are you ready for déjà vu all over again?

I remember back in high school in the late ‘70s, there was a hue and cry when President Carter instituted a voluntary draft registration program. The gaping wound of Vietnam was barely off the nightly news, and we were all too familiar with the “selective” service program, and how easy it was to get out of it if you were wealthy and connected (yes folks, there were plenty of “fortunate sons” in Washington DC, where I grew up). At the time, I argued—and still believe—that in a country that gives so much to its citizens, it is our civic duty to give something back. Of course, there are many ways in which to do this—President Clinton’s Freedom Corps program being just one—but there is no justice to a system that relies upon its most economically disadvantaged to fight its wars, and then discards them when their service is done. The statistics on the percentage of veterans who are homeless are staggering: 23% of all homeless are veterans, 47% of whom served in Vietnam [courtesy The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans]. And let’s not forget the benefits cuts to veterans and to military families, some of which were passed during the war on Iraq. All politics aside (and God knows there are plenty of geopolitical reasons why the average Joe would look askance at a Pentagon recruitment officer), it’s no wonder that no one wants to sign up for Rummy’s Folly.

Do I believe in a draft? Well, I believe we all should serve in some way. But there are a number of confounding moral dilemmas in the execution of any mandatory service program, not the least of which is, is it really service if it’s mandatory? Besides which, who will assign the various tasks, and who benefits? There are just too many problems with a mandatory system, which is why service plans such as the Peace Corps rely solely upon volunteers.

So what of this draft? It is safe to say a significant percentage of its victims will be inhabitants of the so-called “red” states that have (so far) overwhelmingly supported Bush and Co. in their “War on Terror.” The president and his staff have until now managed to keep photos of military funerals (and of the wounded and maimed) out of the mainstream press, but one wonders how long that will last once reality hits. (Visit if you want to see these photos for yourself. They aren’t pretty.)

Yes folks, there are devils afoot in the dusts of Iraq, but there are just as many here at home. Stay tuned, it’s going to be a long, hot summer…

Monday, March 14, 2005

Devils and Dust

Originally uploaded by liannucc.
The man himself.

Things I Like Vol. 16

Ten People/Places/Things, etc. That Rock My World

1) The Fortress of Solitude - Jonathan Lethem
(thx for the recommendation, Dave!)
3) Brie cheese and water crackers
4) Comcast Cable On Demand
5) The Lincoln Memorial
6) The Luna Cafe, Washington DC
7) "Loose Ends" - Bruce Springsteen
8) Converse sneakers
9) Smashed - Koren Zailckas
10) The Pretenders

Hero of the Week: Rep. John Conyers (D-MI),
who has fearlessly and relentlessly challenged the Bush
Administration on everything from election fraud to

Villain of the Week: Condoleezza Rice and her
evil dominatrix boots -- WMD? what WMD?

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Pretty on the Inside

I have never felt pretty--though I am often told I am—not ever in my whole life. Feeling a certain way about oneself comes from the inside—so goes the cliché. And it can only come from a sense of self-worth, not from how other people think you should feel (you’re pretty so you should be happy), how people tell you you look.

I was called bookworm, laughed at, made to feel ugly—as if I needed any prompting—I hated myself so much anyway, surely I was ugly too. And then one day, magically, I was treated like I was pretty--men whistled and honked at me as they drove by; guys walked by and gave me second looks. Not feeling attractive, I acted no differently than I had before--loathing myself on the inside, I just didn’t believe what people said about me or how they acted. Then there were the times I would look in the mirror, believing I looked good, and then beat myself up because I hated myself and, it seemed, so did everyone else—I was almost always alone. I was reasonably good looking, pretty darned smart, and a person whom (it seemed) no one wanted, whom no one would ever want.

These days, I am punished for being too smart--guys don’t like girls who are too smart, it scares them--and then I am punished for being too pretty—guys are intimidated because they think I will reject them as not worthy. But I cannot be anything except the person I am ("to thine own self be true" quoth Shakespeare). So, being annoyed by all these contradictions, I just do the best I can, one day at a time. Some days I feel pretty, some smart, some ugly, some stupid. I am encouraged and refocused by the person I know I am on the inside, and some days I even like myself. But there are many days I still feel ugly and miserable, smart and beautiful, rejected and scared all at once. Is there anyone who doesn't?

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Things I Like Vol. 15

Ten People/Places/Things, etc. That Rock My World

1) The Clash - London Calling reissue
2) Paypal - making it even easier to spend
money on frivolous things
4) Bob Dylan
5) Amadeus, film by Milos Forman
6) "Places That Are Gone" - Tommy Keene
7) Whole Foods Markets - now just lower your
damn prices, folks!
8) International Answer
9) Robert Greenwald, producer/director
10) David Johansen, King of the Blues

Hero of the Week: Paul Krugman, still telling
it like it is at the New York Times

Villain of the Week: (tie) John Bolton (nominee
for U.N. Ambassador) and John Negroponte
(nominee for Director of National Intelligence)--
representing the amoral Bush Administration
at its lowest

Monday, March 07, 2005

Backward-Looking Angel

What is it about spring that brings on the backward-looking melancholy? As soon as the weather turns warm, my thoughts turn to the past, to friends who have long since passed out of my life, of places where many happy hours of my youth were (mis)spent, places where magic happened, places that are gone.

I am not the only one with this obsession--it seems to be a topic by which writers have long been consumed. Not only have entire novels been written on this theme, but one of the longest ever written is titled (depending on how you translate it) Remembrance of Things Past or In Search of Lost Time. Either way, the past is a problem. Why do we artistic types obsess about things we are powerless to change, about places to which we can never return? Is it the place itself, or is it the person we were in that place at that time? Proust spent many years and thousands of pages trying to find the answer, so why should I have any great insight?

Lack of self-confidence and trust in my own decision-making abilities are the culprits with me, I fear. I am always second guessing myself--kicking myself for not taking advantage of certain situations. Late at night before I drift off to sleep, I wonder what would have happened if I had said “yes” instead of “no” (in my case, it’s never about regretting having said “yes,” it’s always about turning things down) in the back of that car at 4 a.m. on a deserted street (in L.A., in N.Y., in Chicago). I have, time and again, told myself that the gut instinct at the time was correct, that no was indeed the correct answer. But if that is true, why am I haunted by the might-have-beens?

There are the times (long past) that seemed so magical. That night at the Stone Pony when Southside Johnny played with Graham Parker, and Springsteen showed up to jam on Creedence and Aretha. The time at The Bayou when he showed up with Robbin Thompson (I came out of the bathroom and almost walked right into him). The time I saw Gillian Welch at a tiny venue out in the woods of Virginia, when her mesmerizing performance of “Long Black Veil” seemed to call forth all the lost souls, to speak to the backward-looking angels in all of us…

There are the places (long gone) where I was so happy--the record stores where I bought the music that literally saved my life. The Sears where I would run in after catechism class on Saturdays to buy the latest hot 45 for 99 cents. Yesterday and Today Records, where I would obsessively leaf through each rack of vinyl, hoping to find some brand new bootleg no one else had noticed. Kemp Mill Records in Georgetown, where I bought my first X album. Penguin Feather Records, where I would spend hours combing the aisles for obscurities, the hippie owners too stoned to care. Kramerbooks & Records, where I hustled down the next day to leaf through the Brian Eno LPs after having read in the Post that Bruce had been there the day before…Main Street Records, where the sales clerk generously fronted me 25 cents so I could buy The River (which I had forgotten was a double album) the day it came out, where I spent countless Saturday mornings fingering the records, desperately trying to drive away the heartache and loneliness…

Places that are gone. The Bayou, where every band worth seeing used to play. The old 9:30 Club, where the hipster New Wavers hung out amongst the rats and cockroaches. The Key Theater, where I went to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show (for the umpteenth time) in my prom dress. Windsor McKay’s, where they had “Rosalita” on the jukebox (and the only place in town where Bruce was friendly enough with the owners to drop by when he was in town). The Ontario Theater, where I missed seeing The Clash ‘cause I was too scared to go by myself…

Decisions regretted, a “no” that should have been “yes”…When will I learn to say “yes” at the right time? When will I look forward instead of back? When will I stop obsessing over things I cannot change, over memories that haunt me, over places that are gone?…

Thursday, March 03, 2005

1,500 and Counting

We just got word this morning that the official
number of Americans killed in action in Iraq has
reached 1,500. While this is a small figure next
to the estimated 100,000 Iraquis killed in the
two years since our invasion, it is nonetheless
needless and therefore every bit as monstrous.

With the two-year anniversary coming up March
19, it is time to redouble our efforts to end
this madness. Take action: write letters to your
local paper or to your congressmen and senators,
or organize a peace vigil or demonstration.
Above all, make your voice heard! We can
all do something, and every movement starts with
the action of just one person.