Not Another Parking Lot for Words
Something about the old noon mining age lunch alarm always creeped me out in Ouray, Colorado. When the town siren went off, it hit a pitch much more inclined toward tornado sirens and pre-bombing wails. Fast trains. Hurricane winds. It was if the days of pleasantries were over, and mining, with a post-apocalptyic mind's eye for detail, was coming back in a big way. That the noon looney bell should be a town gong for immortalizing the 19th century ore boom, with its mining boss mentality, scorched-earth policies, to tell us it's noon, that means lunch, only intensified the fossilized dweeb of the San Juan mountain town's vibe. Then comes the cold wind, the first snows. By then, I was done. Thinking about Florida and Arizona. About those places where mad dogs and Englishman go. Those who work and remain, that is, who actually live there, permanently, are admired as mad, at least in secret, too. For the rest of us: to get thrown out of the heavenly mountains, which occurs from time to time, when you play the migrant journalist game ... no need to get too Miltonian about it ... right, right? ... since each new chapter begins with a getting thrown down from the sky ... To do what? Reign over hell? Well, lucky me. Lucky you.
I was thinking of George Orwell's essay, "Shooting an Elephant," when I was told they would be cutting down a troublesome tree in Ridgway's river park. Something about being led down a path following somebody with tools, in this case, town staff, was going to be, almost instinctively, comparable.
Now the essay should be memorable enough. Surely, they made everyone read it in the sixth grade, it being, among Orwell's experiential works, a lot more fun with animals than the "Animal Farm" socialist attacks of later years. Published in the 1930s when Orwell was sowing his oats in Burma, he was charged, as the most hated civil servant as a British administrator for his village, to go out and shoot an elephant.
They were still plentiful enough, apparently, in the 1930s in Burma. And Orwell, with British pride, showed his mettle to the locals.
The tree cutting seemed innocent enough, compared to elephant shooting. Luckily, I had the camera. It was one shot, tops.
But the interesting item worth naming about a town park this past week is how well it reveals the food chain of things.
You are led down the path, and there's the crew, with at least three yellow ribbons tied around the old cottonwood trees.
They struggle with the problem. Tree cutting is dangerous business. The wind is shifting. One of the men takes a rope and ties a stone around, swinging it and throwing it up to a branch, trying to get a grip for pulling it down, but not until I mention, "Um, this sounds kind of nutty."
After all, why are these trees being cut?
The answer: Insurance.
Now, for the purposes of argument, let's say in the food chain of things, corporations are actually hungrier and therefore subsuming of the individual. The human being then, is at the service of the institutional beast, so to speak, and those institutions must depend on swirling seas of money. Jittery seas at that, all twittery with billions of transactions made by millions of panicky people with keypads for hearts, cell phones for brains. Then, the one insurance multi-national still staffed to collect on the bills without the bailout, let's call it, hypothetically, KGB Corp., sends a rep out to the boonies to check out the coverage profile for Ridgway's river park.
Which turns out to be no bueno, due to the trees.
Because the town, you see, is liable, of course, to make sure the trail is safe. Someone could get killed if a branch from a tree in a park (of all places) fell and killed someone.
Happens every day.
So the roving eye of the insurance company for the town, Mr. Rep from Hypothetical KGB Corp., wanting to make sure it doesn't go bankrupt from the risk, tells the town it must "prune" the trees along the trail.
In case the wind blows. Hard.
So, being helpful, Orwellian you, living in the world where war is peace, upside down is the status quo, and amorphous blob corporations are at the top of the food chain, run then, by masters of the universe, who you serve now and always will, suggest some tips on how they might do a better job.
Because you are the loyal civil servant now.
"Swing it like a sling from the side," you might say. Or, "Just get cracking with the saw and let the tree fall where it may."
Now the nice thing to note, being helpful in regards to the insurance risk, as well as thinking green (implant smiley face emoticon here), is many other trees are planted in the park, which is a preserve, to replace those 30-year-old cottonwoods along the trail. As Jeff Goldblum says in "Jurassic Park," "Life finds a way."
Now a few last basics: A park is a preserve of nature, put on life support.
War is peace. Silence is golden, and what else, oh yes, insurance saves lives. In fact, that's what they charge the town for …
well maybe, the whole insurance concept is really kind of lost on me, actually … But a town park saves life, this much is also true.
Isn't feeling "safer" the name of that thing, anyway? Go ahead. Shoot.
Oh well, at least I have just recently been able to remove myself from the local scene as a scourge to the community. That is, I no longer hitchhike full-time. Bought a a Ford Exploder instead.
This after doing some research on the origins of the term "hitchhiker." After that, I was aghast. During my short time there trying to get back and forth to and from work in the Ridgway and Ouray offices for our two newspapers, I simply felt increasingly crushed by the loneliness and rejection of being one of the few people in the region who seemed to be hitchhiking.
I was not so much horrified by who was actually picking me up. They were all truly interesting people. In fact, they were not the sort of folk who I might have suspected to be sympathetic to the practice. More often then not, they were people who drove SUVs or large pick-up trucks. Once, I was picked up by someone in some kind of red vintage Mercedes sports car. He was a 70-year-old roaming engineer who had just been to Iraq, where he did safety inspections for a new power plant that had failed to reach any kind of completion there. His problem in Iraq was that the locals kept killing members of his security convoys. Apparently, I did not scare him. So he picked me up after about 25 cars went by coming down the hill out of Ouray.
I did not scare him in the least. In fact, he was sorry, after our brief conversation during the drive to Ridgway, that I couldn't continue on with him to California. He hated to be alone.
I also dislike loneliness. I don't know how many people carpool locally now. But hitchhikers during my time of day were so rare, during the rush hours, I'd have to say the practice is completely out of fashion.
Why? My guess is because it's an election year. So if anybody saw me out there with my thumb up, and they were Republican, then they just figured they'd soar on by and get a few minutes' jump on the guy who obviously doesn't look like a member of their party. This is, of course, pure paranoia (but then so much drive-by rejection will do that to a man). Though, until about three months ago, I was a member of the Republican Party, they had me pegged as a turncoat.
I should have tucked my shirt in more often, kept the sunglasses in my pocket and shaved off my beard. Apparently, according to my much too late research, that was what I needed to do to get picked up more often.
Anyway, the reason I was so aghast was I'd failed to realize just who I was aligning myself with during an election year: famous beatniks such as Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady and Hunter S. Thompson. That's no bueno for this, the season of political polarization. I should have known that of those places listed online where drivers are obliged to pick up hitchhikers, these places include Cuba, where government vehicles and lorry drivers with unoccupied seats must pick up hitchhikers.
I think if there was a line of hitchhikers where I stood with my thumb out, it might have gone a lot better. Like some kind of bus stop for hitchers, wannabe carpoolers then, for a more organized and benevolent society. But, strangely, I was never picked up by anybody in one of those sweet-looking hybrids such as a Prius. No clear members of the counterculture, driving beaters or VW busses, who were obviously linked up with the sympathies I mentioned above, cared to stop. Often, they were .. phones and tended to look away, or wave, or smile. Sometimes, they just shrugged.
Now I could write something poetic about the best lacking all conviction, but I won't, because it seems to be those who the self-assured gusto, those full of "passionate intensity," who were offering the rides.
Instead, I'll just thank those who picked me up just as my faith in humanity was sinking to its lowest. As well as my new carpool buddy, who I won't mention until I learn whether or not he cares to be aligned with those literary scaliwags I mention above. All of these people are fully due for some "instant karma," which is the name of that thing.
Here is what life is like writing newspaper fluff in a mountain resort town: The summer invasion is over, and this loosely wound interior village is more forever changed than it could ever, by itself, change the big bad global village. Now we can only attend the Horizontal Zoning Slash Main Street Vitality Festival for the remainder of the week and try to get our senses back. As the citizens crash from the curious letdown of having this trampling upon the ground end as suddenly as it began, the early impressions fade even faster. Before the assault of an entirely different festival demographic overwhelms you with each passing weekend, what's needed is some quick cultural anthropology. Maybe then we could learn more about how when why how come main street doesn't get the traffic even with the so-called "numbers." Even with big, big so-called "numbers." Even if numbers are, indeed, disappearing before our eyes.
Creative solutions are needed to better channelize this flood. But first, we need to get the information in. It's really like studying the tides. They go one way, toward the festival in a hurry, at first, then drag themselves the other way with this lost, "now what" look as the day and night progresses. A good grounding comes from a sense of scientific objectivity, which in this case means getting over the tendency by locals to avoid falling trap to a popular sense of general elitist loathing. You know, that protective feeling that these proceedings are driven by lowland criminal invaders sucking the very life out of the planet. Why don't you just admit it? Of course they are sucking the life out of the planet, but you love those numbers. They are not criminals at all. They are you among a throng of 10,000 mirrors of holiday town: All reflecting back upon you, and, where you came from ... What to write about? Even a seemingly exquisite if expensive idea such as widening the sidewalk on the south side of the Avenue, which would heat the sidewalk, softens from the trampling. But until all of that "altitude adjustment" business is settled deep down inside, little things can be done, little handy creative solutions, fully enforceable, that can be thrust upon the community at large.
You have hopes. This is a team effort, after all. Sacrifices need to be made. Considering the large number of taco-shaped cowboy hats worn by out of towners during events, it might be a good idea to write for local retailers to try to turn the tides on this style. The actual style of the headwear barely matters. You could offer new demand by having the entire local citizenry wear a new style next year. These hats would be "comped" to all locals, maybe through a direct mailing, and then after the end of the festival these new hats could be returned to the stores selling them. Community journalism in a nutshell: Community organizing, actually.
If this seems like an expensive proposition, then this "monkey see, monkey do" sales approach column could be merely be tried first with the mass-mailing of 1,500 "Funny Statement About Holiday Town Goes Here" T-shirts. If this funny statement shirt goes over well during the festival weekend, the Friday paper – you should be able to tell if the funny statement is used more commonly in speech as the weekend progresses – then you could move to taking photos of large, fancy hats the next festival.
A number of times, while moving powerlessly through the summer crowds, I heard some people, fully satisfied for an hour that they had done everything else, decided it was time to go shoplifting.
Probably the biggest and best idea to offer, in terms of figuring out a way to resolve town coffers coughing from the demands of so many civic needs, is to tax cell phone use. Now that would be a column ... the word of the day for the street!... One thing that was noticeable: Cell phone use decreased and conversations increased as the week went on. Maybe a lot of visiting cell phones just died from the lack of available juice. But there's demand and supply there, as well as the seed of the aforementioned retail-boosting concept … phone plug-in booths! Cell phone waxing? Cell phone massage?
Maybe the new hats for the following season could include a Kevlar lining to thwart the bombardment of invisible cell phone waves caused by this underappreciated kind pollution. Maybe that pollution can be met with a mitigation formula in the town land use code where anybody who uses a cell phone could fund a new concept. Instead of affordable housing, we could fund "affordable retail." Take the cell phone issue, for example. It's an urban plague, folks. Nobody in the cities talks to anyone around them in public places anymore. Just to their five friends on their cell phones. It's society's invisible isolating backyard fence. So here's the overview and master plan, the last in the series: Disney people, next year, hide your cell phones when tourists are in view. And wear different hats. Act natural. Do "it" in the road, but scoop it up, too. Perhaps, as the weekend hippies drive away quickly, someone might be inspired by this act of environmental self-policing and then, just then, change behavior in the cities. Be willing to answer questions, but when you are caught in the current of people going one way down the street when you need to go another, feel free to ask questions, create a "listening." Confess in the gondola and be very, very interesting ...yes, yes,always good advice column stuff ... Eccentric even, without being too scary.
But hey, people kill for these mountain writing jobs: You are one of the few. Think of yourself as a resident of some kind of post-hippie, pre-apocalyptic human heritage village, and you'll be part of the downtown vitality solution, not part of the downtown vitality problem.
So when the boss comes in on a cold morning and says, Mac, we got to let you go, the office for the 100-year-old, old as baseball old "Newspaper That Refused to Die," did. The meaning here: Laid off, the the rest of the 10 million at the end of the Bush administration. At least in spirit. Which was fortunate, I'd run out of things to say. After the election, I felt, without a stable Republic to actually muse on, and the common opponent and fuel for fodder, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, out of the picture, it was if all of the fun circus animals had deserted me. With Obama elected, and the nation in ruins, one can only be sit back and be stunned. At least, that was the way it was starting to look for that southwestern Colorado mountain town. Especially after the first storm moved in ...
So now there are those who didn't vote for Obama who are calling him the anti-Christ .. or some such other sewercide economics cult crap ... As if what occurred while Bush was around (and he still is president), didn't bring enough Taurean bullshit to begin with! Or, as Neil Young might sing, "I don't feel like a devil but I am to them," so anyone who voted for supported him becomes the enemy, again, the children of Satan again then, too, I suppose. The godless American. The ugly fascism rising just in time for a four-score breakout of fringe hate groups, homegrown terrorists, in Mythville, America. Coming out of the woods, they are, yes ... still binding us by the old Mason Dixon line ... again ...
We can't just all get along. The world needs lines to cross, to invade. Better some invisible monkey-bat dragon-breath with a beard bird far from these shores, than, hells bells, our feudal neighbors in gated communities holding back slums... We need wars, we being the capitalist state, to keep this kind of thing from happening. Old as the crusades. Hate to be a crank about it, really, it's just that the familiar ironies won't work anymore. They just don't sound right. The blame game sounds tinny. All humor is lost. Needs reinventing. The responsibility should be shed evenly. Sadly, though we are hope despite the times, yes, the agitprop REM still ringing true ... but trying to come up with something light and sunny then, well, fuck you too ...
So we come down from the mountains of Blue state Colorado, making Arizona just a little more blue, too. The music as we cross the desert in our 1992 Ford Exploder, a $300 bitch of a buy from a derelict quote friend in the Telluride high-country, a world of troubles onto itself, in full need of an exorcism and a new transmission, the car, not Telluride, that is, the big old green beast taking us across the great expanse,the big wide sky, well noticed after living in canyons and between fourteeners for so long, in the early afternoon shadows, the daylight-muted snows ... the great expanse, through Ship Rock, New Mexico, down the old route 666 ... people ask how it's going, fuck if I know, but it seemed the right thing to do ... to hurl back down to the past, to the burbs of the North Valley of Phoenix, to where everything is comfortable as the bolted down cement, where the meat locker of convenience feeds all, and there's gas, gas, gas, for everyone. New roads, big highways clashing with steal and snaky moans. Why change anything? Who could feel so Blue? Heck, the funniest thing I've seen was the guy, who had the good (fortune?) of working for AIG, having trouble with his brand new custom Mustang, big yellow police attractor, so out of sync with its tech ... couldn't get it out of the parking lot. I thought gee, being on the Governor's ski team was cool ... When the morning begins, you can hear the hum. It vibrates in the heart. ... startles me awake.
Thoughts written on a canyon map, during a coffee, bidi and piece of some kind of prettily made bread? While Gazing at a Hummer-Covered Parking Lot at a Gentrified Suburban Republican Bistro, I charted this course with a red string on a map of black chalk. The roads are many, the final choice, difficult. I climb up the cafe canyon walls to get a better view, to see over the trees and see my way to you ... Having returned like Prometheus to my city in pretty chains of light, the rains have stopped like Porches braking in the sun, which burns, big and bright, drying this coffee stop tabletop with its eviscerating truth, inspired by just the glint of the sun, writing ...
Gathering force, moving toward
the majestic and mysterious,
the merely merrily whimsical
snowcapped peaks of Ouray,
just a day away, as Latin horns
are piped through soccer moms
in sweatpants and motors purr
Is this city immune to war?
This cream of violence
rises to the top
For what they eat and taste
and buy and like,
they will not stop
Mechanized sweet, sweet soap,
the umbilical sword of the clean,
is the last potable hope
of water for the healing
and giving peace a hearing
And while the dance world cult is searing,
I advance across an asphalt clearing:
In my heart, the key is just the start,
this language of escape
is now my art
Then comes the phone call. From the landlord. I've been laid off? No way, I say. Some kinda mistake. But she says that's what they are telling people who call for me at another one of these mountain top newspapers, these self-important scions of the late great age of newsprint ... see the fall ... write the headline, tight, down the column ...
Enter the panic ... the width .. the wake up from sleep. Those old sleep apnea blues ...
Ok, Ok, breathe ... just breathe ... no way to breathe.
i call the office. Nobody in who knows anything but a young lanky dude, a corporate officer in training.
Yeah, he says, "laid off."
No, I think. That wasn't the deal. I had come in just days before. Explaining the situation. No, i say, I was just moving out of the house! That this old house thing was a metaphor for the county at large. No, they knew. There was no Tesla coil in the attic, except in Telluride, as another dangerous idea that almost made sense for the Telluride Tech Fest, an idea which I adored, like the rest of the town ... hence, the passion for my work ... a Tesla coil in my attic ... are you shitin' me?
Told them I had big plans, big ... had a place on Wilson Mesa, dig? ... apparently not ... memories now of someone in a codeine haze ... of some young prince straightening the whole vacation pay fiasco misunderstanding out ... meanwhile, the media king, Set, is somewhere sleeping, I suppose, or looking into the mirror, seeing if he still looks like his weekly column's (if that often) avatar ... in the sleep of Narcissus ...
But this much I know, truth is a defense ... you can trust the truth ... and this old meme-or-rie, that graces with age ... rages with grace ... grows like a leafy old tree, it does, despite the recently discovered condition for forgetting how to spell some words but remember others, which he doesn't even know the meaning for yet, that he can now spell with ease ...
So there I was ... using the last of my damn vacation pay ... wonderin' who knows what the truth is, what the defense, therefore is ... for such behavior 40 miles away, in beautiful, snow glowing mountains ... some vindictive judgment rendered downhill by Zeus, I suppose ...
So I meet still with the lady about the Wilson Mountain place ... she's incredulous, after being so open about the idea of us moving in right away at first ... we leave the meeting crazed and confused, like the floor has fallen out beneath us ... I mean, we had the income, met with the guy living in the place, the dream, at last!
... so then I finally call in to the people I work with, who I would always apologize on the street for, because I knew better, but suddenly I don't, and I'm scared as hell that it's happening again ... the life as a personal Bible thing, the from Genesis rebirth to the very apocalypse we all try to avoid, but seems to part of our DNA, at least, to my persecution complex, always revealed, due to my sensitivities, in spades ...
The truth is a defense ... sure, sure, that's the racket ...
So I call in from 40 miles away, gas at maybe $3 bucks a gallon, beer still being more expensive ... I call in from my former work office from the emergency center because the phone has been unplugged and Jaimie is on a wire and the dog is still missing and people are putting up flyers and the landlord is playing some weird game and fuck fuck fuck ... the codeine is talking again on the other end of the line ... wants me to write freelance, instead of the regular gig ...
Fuck fuck fuck ... I hesitate, try to breathe ... my head going no no no ... that never works ... it's too discretionary, and then peters down to nothing ... I've fallen for that one a bunch ... but now I have no choice, codeine says ... so I take the deal ... yeah, nice guys, on trial, always waive their rights and take the deal ... because they believe in justice, the truth, in the availability of social services, and all of the rest ...
Later, when it all gets way too official, we are all on some strange and deadline deadly phone line, talking up our versions of the truth and everybody's memory has gone sour but mine ... it's positively Reaganesque, as in no stick, especially with mad King Set, whose voice now slides by with each question, each issue, each wrinkle in their version of the truth ... three-against-one now, my one, their 3 ... my one truth, imperfect, both rational and irrational, just like everyone else, spinning within the eye of pleasure and incredible, usually self-inflicted pain with the terrible silver slickness of the snake ... geez, getting Biblical, see it ... See it! ...
See. It. Breathe.
Three journos on the phone line, maybe 100 years of journalistic experience chatting it all up ... the truth! ... What the great Arbitror must think? ...
I tell it all ... and their wrinkles don't add up ... I weep in a sense of accomplishment ... laugh at the young thin dude, how this old friend can't remember something we talked about on the phone, twice ... the corporate line ... I "honestly can't remember is the last thing this Judas" says, but it hardly seems relevant ... the great Arbitror has all of the information it needs ... and it all should be written up as a cautionary tale for the Columbia Journalism Review ...
But see, the demiurge is only the maker of a dish on a plate to be served up for the eater of souls! See, the demiurge, can't believe the truth when it gets heard, because the very image it casts, of truth, of social justice, of equality ... it's all a fake, a lie, not purposefully so, but most certainly an illusion ...
"Story not credible," sayeth the Judge, much later, as if by then it even matters ...
Cause it doesn't bring the dawg back, so so speak, in a manner of speaking, on the matter of, yeah, well, the truth.