"But officer, there wasn't anything about murdering kids in my basement in the rental contract!"

Moving. I’m moving. Tired. Need boxes. Always more boxes. Crack addicts are like social-drinkers compared to the desperate lengths someone who’s moving will go to to get more boxes. The other day M and I snuck into the recycle bin behind the hospital – yes, the medical-waste area recycle Dumpster – to root around for some good, high-quality boxes.

There are parts of moving I really enjoy – purging the excess stuff that just seems to accumulate despite all efforts: the papers, the unworn clothes and so forth; going to a new space, starting a new adventure. Other parts, I don’t so much enjoy. Like discovering that your current residence is a total shit-hole. Smudges and finger prints on the wall. Chips in the paint. Stains – oh, God, such disturbing stains – in the carpet. Windows that look like they’ve been licked clean. And, of course, the boxes. Always more boxes. Boxes.

I’ve always been reluctant to move. I think I approach moving the way some people approach relationships – no matter how awful, no matter how much you know you’ll be happier if you move on, you worry that you’ll never find anything as good again. God, my little studio apartment in Portland had silverfish, rusty rusty rusty pipes, it was fucking freezing, and so on. What prompted me to leave that little Eden? When the ceiling collapsed. Seriously. During the flood in 1996 (‘96? ’94? Whenever. That time Portland flooded) so much water built up on the roof and I was on the top floor, and the water decided my place looked nice and moved in. Quite suddenly in the middle of the night, in fact. I decided to maybe look around then. My moving saga is like a contemporary real-estate version of Candide.

Part of the contract when you rent or purchase a new place is an agreement not to use illegal narcotics in the place. This is a bit silly. If this is the route we want to go, shouldn’t we be including something about no arson, no child abduction, and no fabricating reasons to start war? I mean, if the contract really works. But of course it doesn’t. I guarantee that at no time, ever, has someone refused to move in to a place because of this clause. "Let’s see…lawn maintenance…payment due on the first…okay…Whoa! Hold the fucking phone a second there, Mr. Furley! No drugs? But I wanted to make meth! I already stole a truck full of Sudafed and everything! And though I, apparently, have no problem breaking federal laws, poisoning others and slowly destroying myself, I would NEVER violate a rental contract. Ah, crap. Well, if this is going to be in all housing contracts, I suppose I will quit the drugs, get a job and contribute to society. Good sir, could you point me to an LL Bean store and a Four-Square Church?"

I mean, that’s the idea, right? I love the idea that these little tidbits not only address, but even combat, these problems. The U.S, in the last hundred years has really hit the trifecta of idiotic, unwinnable wars. War on drugs. War on terror. And, my personal favorite, The War on sex the government instigated in the beginning of the twentieth century.

None of those things will ever really be done away with so long as people are still moving into new homes, because someone in need of a good box will offer or threaten the use of any and all three of those things.


The Zipperless Flight

I love flying. Lots of people complain about how cramped it is, and the food is terrible (if you can get any), and so on. It seems like people tend to forget something about plane travel though: You’re fucking flying!!! That should be the slogan for every airline – "United Airlines. We can fly!" "Virgin Airlines: Holy Shit, We’re Flying!" Good God, you can get from one coast to the other in a few hours, and people say, "Yeah, but it’s mildly uncomfortable." Yeah, that was Lewis & Clark’s chief complaint too – the lack of leg room and stale air.

I especially love take off. The sudden blast of speed, the ground suddenly dropping away beneath you, you get higher and higher, until your brain can no longer comprehend how high up you are and everything just looks interesting. Great stuff. I even love airports, which might make me clinically insane. The energy and raw emotion of separation & reunion, the excitement of going somewhere new and break from routine. So I’m probably a little weird.

Oh, sure, there’s the fiery crash part of flying, but I had this weird moment once some years ago that sort of ended that for me (mostly). I was flying from Ireland to Scotland in the dead of winter. Icy plane, low visibility, and so forth. The stewardesses on this particular Aer Lingus flight – and I’m not trying to be funny because they’re Irish, I’m just reporting the facts – we’re drunk. And if the stewardesses were visibly drunk, we can only assume the pilots were having their stomachs pumped up in the cockpit. So, we’re over the Irish Sea and the plane is bumping and so forth. I was feeling a tad edgy. I was thinking to myself, ‘What if we crash?’ When a very calm voice in my head said, ‘You’d die. But, hey, you really, probably won’t crash.’ And, oddly enough, I felt much better, and have loved flying ever since. The statistics about how you’re more likely to be struck by lightening while scratching your ninth consecutive winning lottery ticket (or whatever they use for those dumb comparisons) than be in a plane crash mean nothing to me. "You really, probably won’t crash" works for me, for some reason. And figuring, if it does crash, I die, and that’s all there is to that, was strangely comforting. Not that I’m claiming not to fear death, it’s just that there were no variables, either it is or it isn’t.

That being said, on the flight back from Philadelphia, the plane sounded like shit. Those were some terrible, horrible sounds. Clanking, grinding and lurching. If your car made the sounds this plane was making, you’d pull over. It sounded like the pilots kept having trouble getting the plane into gear, like the clutch was going out. One of the friends I was travelling with had never flown before, and she turned to me and asked what those sounds were and if we were okay. Of course I felt compelled not to reply, "That, my friend, is the sound of our horrible death. I hope you enjoyed this trip because it is the finale to your time in this mortal coil, and I would suggest we panic now." Instead I embarked on the line of bullshit we reserve for when the person next to us on the plane is worried about the sounds it’s making, since, of course, we never know what the sound is either. "That? That’s the landing gear retracting. And that ker-chunk-crash sound? That’s, um, the luggage compartments securing. Like how some car doors automatically lock after you go a certain speed. Yeah. That hideous grinding? That’s, ah, uh, that’s the regality… modification…cramulator. It’s supposed to do that. Everything’s fine. By the way, apropos of nothing, when’s the last time you told your family that you love them?"

So, see? Flying’s great.


No exaggeration - 600-pounds if he was an ounce

So...which do I prefer, someone asked me on the drive back from New Jersey: Atlantic City, Las Vegas or Reno. I was the only one in the car who had been to all three. A dubious honor, especially considering that my exposure to each is pretty limited, I have to admit. My total amount gambled is probably something like eight dollars. I can never tell if I'm too broke to gamble, too sensible, too chicken, not enough fun or just too much of a tightwad (I am Scottish, after all). Actually, I kind of think it's something else - I once bet two dollars on a horse at the Del Mar racetrack (Falling Down Rain to win) and won twenty-four dollars, and stopped betting immediately, not because I was poor, sensible, scared or cheap, but because I immediately began envisioning what I would do when I bet bigger and won bigger.

But as to the gambling meccas, the sad fact is my time in all three of those places combined is less eventful than the night I spent in the dreadful town of Winnemucca, Nevada. For those who don't know, it's the place to go gamble if you're not up to the hectic pace and glamour of Reno. Or Chinook Winds Tribal Casino. Or a middle-school band concert. The night in Winnemucca involves my first paid stand-up comedy gig, sitting in a brothel having a beer with a bunch of prostitutes and swapping life stories, nearly getting my ass kicked by a 600-pound silver miner and his buddies, all of whom were completely (clothes, hair, skin, etc.) gray from the dust in the mine, a stripper teaching me to pole dance, and being hit on by a gay Country & Western singer. It's a good story.

But anyways...

Which do I like best? Reno? Sorry. It's out because Reno is dumb. It's like someone wanted to replicate Vegas, got about a third done and thought, "Eh. Close enough." This is appropriate, I suppose since it seems to be designed for people who want to go to Vegas, but get part way there and think, "Eh. Close enough."

Vegas is the most fascinating. Anyone who doesn't understand why the world hates us has never been to Vegas. Vegas is what happens when three hundred million Puritan descendants - with our repressed sexuality, our gluttony, all of our hypocricies, nuances and quirks, and even with our optimism and can-do spirit - designate an area to turn a moral blind eye. To pretend not to see each other. It is the collective repressed Id detonated across a desertscape. But that has plusses as well as minuses. It is the most fascinating. Also it's the funniest and hands-down winner for sheer spectacle. And the Bellagio fountains are purty.

Atlantic City is a little sedate, but it does have the beach, and the boardwalk (an asset and a hindrance), and all those streets from Monopoly which are impossible to see without flipping out like a celebrity sighting ("Omigod, that's THE St. James Place! I had a hotel there once! Get a picture!"). Sticking a big hospital in the middle of the uptown casinos is an interesting choice. Bit of a downer, but perhaps, given the plurality of drunken geriatrics, simple pragmatism. Also there's a Kenneth Cole factory store. But most importantly Atlantic City has some sense of time, of its own, however limited, history. I like that. Vegas exists in an eternal now, not in a Zen spirituality sense, but in a desperate, keeping-the-blinders-on-to-our-own-mortal-existence kid of way. And Reno exist in a perpetual yawn. If I were to spend a night gambling, Atlantic City seems like the place to meet your sin needs, but also has a touch of humanity, and you could show some class without feeling like you're jsut pretending. So there it is, I guess. Congratulations, New Jersey, even with your toll booths.

Oh, and to the restroom attendant at Bally's: I'm sure you thought it was total bullshit, someone being in a casino with no cash, but I really just stopped in to use you parking lot. I wasn't trying to stiff you on the tip. The bathroom was very nice and clean and the towel you handed me really did the trick.


Give Me Liberty or, good God, at least some iced tea and a damp wash cloth

In Philadelphia for the week. Hot. Really hot. I’m starting to wonder if in the original Declaration of Independence there’s a section about how it’s so God Damn hot and these English are just getting on everyone’s nerves and, Christ, I’m sweating like a pig and it’s somebody’s fault and these Limeys are starting to just piss me off! Which they then, wisely, deleted in favor of the bits taxation without representation and so forth.
One thing that is really hard – Living on the west coast we forget just how bad racial segregation is, not because we’re enlightened, of course, but because we don’t have to deal with it as much (except in regards to Hispanics, and we’ve got all kinds of ways to rationalize marginalizing them). With one or two exceptions, every single business establishment we’ve gone into, the low-level staff is entirely black, and every single manager is white. I’m sure living here it becomes easy to not see it, since it’s simply the way it is, but when place after place you see only black people until someone has a question for the manager and poof! Suddenly there’s a white guy! Man, it’s hard.

Perhaps the hardest thing is that in many ways, there’s nothing we (white people) can do about it. I don’t mean this in a helpless, socially-impotent way, I just mean it would be arrogant and, ultimately, self-defeating to think we’re going to "save" other races from us. This mindset is merely a mutation of the White-Man’s Burden that has done such wonders for the world. The affirmative action debate has been ground into farce through demagoguery and buzz-phrases which is too bad, because it allows us to simply ignore the issue while feeling like we have an informed opinion and are doing something about it.

This is the inherent flaw in affirmative action, but when black communities do galvanize and form organizations, etc…well…we demonize the leaders, and usually kill them. I just wish there would be some event that could bring about the next Dr. King, the next Malcolm X. And I pray that when it happens, many of us are able to support their efforts, even though it will mean erosion of our power. Equalization is an inevitability – either through mutual growth, or by force. People don’t give up power, as a general rule, it must be taken. Liberty can’t be granted, it must be declared. Even if it has to be declared while standing in a pool or, or even bathtub full of cool water to avoid delirium from the heat.


To the graduating class...

Well, you’re here – graduation. Today you move forward to a new stage, a new level of freedom, responsibility and identity. It is important to mark occasions like this with ceremony – with pomp and circumstance to underscore that this truly is major event in life. The true meaning of what’s happening here will not be clear to you for some time. Some of you days, some months, most will need years until you understand what’s happened here today. But it matters.

So what is happening here today? You’re going to be hearing a lot of words to the effect of this: “We have worked hard to be here and now our hard work pays off. We are the future. Among us lies the cure for AIDS, the end to famine and a renewable energy source. Someday we will be running the country, and its up to us to make the world a better place.”

Inspiring words.

Also, alas, complete bullshit.

Let’s dissemble this eye-rolling nonsense that inevitably spews at every graduation from Anchorage to Pensacola, from College to Middle school ceremonies and find the truth in it. Because there is profound truth in graduation, and profundity is scary. Life is big and scary and graduation marks a sea change, so we hide from it. We hide behind alcohol and platitudes under the guise of celebration and wise counsel. Instead, today of all days, let’s look the moment in the eyes.

“We have worked hard to be here” – No, you haven’t. Some of you have, but, oh, 70, 80 percent of you have not. You have done the minimum asked of you. You have showed up and been herded through an over-crowded system that relies on large numbers of warm bodies for its funding. You have missed the point, you have downloaded papers off the Internet, parroted your friends’ and parents’ opinions and stared into space until you were told it was time to leave. You have whined and lied to get out of work and, in some cases, worn revealing clothing to try and get extensions on due dates and found nothing demeaning in it. This is fine, I only mention it because in all the hoopla you may start to actually believe that you have, in fact, worked hard. That you have earned this diploma. You have not. And if you start to regard this as your template for what qualifies as “hard work” you are going to have a life of sloth and banality, all the while whining and growing resentful and bitter that no one has rewarded you with the fame and fortune to which you believe you are entitled.

Another chunk of you? You did work hard. It’s true. For grades. I regret to inform you that in about one hour no one is ever again going to give a fuck about the grades to which you devoted yourself these last few years. Sorry. Try to see the humor in it, if you can. They may have helped you get into whatever you’re doing next, but they have no intrinsic value. No one at college will care what your grades were in high-school, and no one in life cares what your grades were in college. You might get a “wow”, but that’s about it. Grades are meaningless, and when you apply meaning to the meaningless this only results in bad things – degrees of delusion ranging from superstition to full on hallucination. But it is not too late. There is a good Buddhist like lesson you can learn right now – like the monks who create large, beautiful paintings out of sand, then wipe them away. Let go of grades. You worked hard, not for knowledge, but for letters. Not even real letters, but concepts of letters. They don’t exist. Let them vanish.

The last five percent. Today is for you. You discovered the joy in pursuing knowledge. You worked hard at things you had interest in and discovered that it ceased to be hard work. You realized that school is not an obligation but a gift. For all its flaws, there is much to be found in our schools, but you must look for it. You have found it. You have developed your mind and your soul. Congratulations.

“We are the future” - Okay, what the fuck does this idiotic phrase even mean? This is one of the worst, most vapid phrases ever concocted. Every time I have to sit through a graduation ceremony it’s uttered in the first five or six minutes and then repeated, ad nauseum until you are in your car, trying to get out of the parking lot, this phrase echoing through your cranium, and with each uttering and echo I feel part of my brain die, shrieking. You’re not the future.

Well, you are, as much as everyone else is. You are Right Now, as am I. In the future you will also be Right Now, it’s just that that right now hasn’t happened yet. Someday you will die, at which point you will cease to be Right Now. I think this phrase is supposed to connect in to the “running the country idea” and that you will all cure AIDS and be rock stars and president and so forth. That you will succeed where the rest have failed at ending war and cleaning the environment. Good, great, I’ll look forward to that. But the thing is, you’re not destined for greatness. What lies ahead of you is opportunity and responsibility. What is true is this: you are going to be adults. You are going to get more responsibilities, which you can either embrace or evade. The question is: what are you going to do with this? Most everyone spends a good portion of their lives hiding from this inevitability. We hide from adulthood and responsibility because we are not ready yet. You have not, then, graduated. Not really. That will be your own personal ceremony. Strive for greatness – please, please do. But also know that if you really want to be the future, be the future you want to see as an individual. Be kind, take care of those you love. Be honest and when you make a mistake, admit it. Have the courage and wisdom to discover the difference between pleasure and happiness. Be the person you know you can be. In your small corner of the world, be a great person. Everyone in this room can do this. Everyone. Everyone here can, every day, in every Right Now until the moment you die, continue to learn and be the kind of person we so badly need in this world. You are probably never going to be famous. You are probably never going to be rich. There are great joys, and unimaginable pains that lie ahead for you. You will regret things, you will be proud of things. There are dreams you have that will not come true – you must choose which to pursue. Saving the world is great. But it begins with great individuals. Discover what hard work is – what it is to earn something for its own sake. This is the path to happiness. It isn’t glamorous, but it’s truth. Most of you have pursued pleasure, now it is time to seek happiness.


Da da da

Dadaism. Let’s talk about Dadaism for a moment, shall we? Oh yes, let’s. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately because it’s really jiving with many elements of the current state of development my own personal search. You know, THE search. search with a capital S.

So, I’m thinking about this concept at the moment. Of course, I realize that becoming something of a Dadaist is pretty much impossible, since the Dadaist movement ended seventy-five years ago, so I can really no more become a Dadaist than join the Whig party or become a phrenologist, but you get my meaning. For those unfamiliar with Dadaism, it’s a pretty simple concept: what does Dada mean?

Nothing. It’s gibberish. It’s the noise a baby might make. So here’s the syllogism of Dadaism – Life is idiotic and absurd. Idiotic and absurd stuff is great. Therefore, life is great. Like the gibberish of babies – it’s weird and crazy, yet it’s just about the best thing there is. Why? The purity? The sheer joy a baby gets in making burbly noises? The fact that there is no meaning in it, yet there is?

Okay, yes, there are conflicting theories on the origin of the name “dada”, but I feel it only fair to point out that the other theories are complete shit, so one must factor that in when judging. German for “yes yes”? What are you, kidding me? Yes, that does in fact make “da da” but come on. You might as well propose that the name means “District Attorney District Attorney” or ‘the first dad’ (dad A), or some other random confluence that makes the proper sound. French from the term ‘hobby-horse’? No. Sorry. It’s nonsensical, so that works, but it has no flair, lacks that certain je ne sais quois.

Of course, strict Dadaists rejected the term entirely because, like most artistic movements, the name was often used as an insult and the nature of the movement itself belied labels. By naming it you reduce it to something nameable and structured, which is impossible – similar in idea to the Taoist Uncarved Block, or Christian Jahweh. That which we call dada is not dada. But it really should be called something because otherwise you wind up in awkward conversations like:
“Hey, you know Greg? Yeah, he’s a (wink).”
“A what? A communist?”
“No, a (wink).”
“No! (wink) (wink) (wink)”
“Oh God, are you have a seizure?!”

So anyway, at times when you find yourself muttering under your breath that the world is insane, it’s nice to be able to step back and feel like that it’s all okay, that this is part of the majesty. If our culture really is falling apart, how cool to get a front row seat! If it doesn’t collapse, even better! But watching a fire is entrancing. It is Shiva’s dance that destroys the world. Chaos or meaninglessness doesn’t mean a grim fatalism, or even meaninglessness itself, really. Rather the meaning, the profundity, is in the dissembling of convention. I really get the feeling sometimes that God has this amazing sense of humor, and our brains are just too small to get it. Here He is, firing off these hilarious bits, concept jokes, one-liners, and probably getting pretty frustrated that He can’t seem to dumb it down enough for us to get it. The cosmic farce, the joy if in the humor of it all. And that in this, there is an order, just one beyond our reckoning.

In closing, a scene for your theatrical pleasure. Copyright 2005, Byron MacLymont, all rights reserved including merchandising, sequels and remakes.

Frenchie: Aimes-tu mon dada?
Klaus: Da! Da! Das ist gut! Oh, ist jemand hier ein rechtsanwalt?
District Attorney: Yes! Me, me!