Saturday, May 28, 2005

Remembering Memorial Day
what it felt to be who I always was
myself by the beach watching
ocean curl itself into rollers
surrounded by trees, a powder puff
on earth's shingle surface scratching
the air's back;
hormonal love gone,
a Fallopian call for children
gourded into glass and stone
of kitchen linoleum,
what is love now, who am I,
what do I need?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

No. 10 Will Come Again
Everyone left the theater, still chanting on their way out, "Remember Abu Ghraib."

The riot guys surrounded me on stage with daggers in their eyes. "Hey, Mike, you creep." I didn't know that was my middle name. "You better pay up."

"Yeah, we're all expecting those freebies you promised on our search engines."

I wanted to tell them that Google could sell them a product to do it better, but didn't think this was the best time.

"Don't forget, bub," said the Nike GI Joe. "You owe us," he said, putting down his toy Uzi. "Man, how I want to get out of these clothes."

They all left, leaving me on the stage with my chin still balanced on the parquet floor.

"How could you?" asked the woman with the video recorder.

Clearly, the cinema's janitorial contract didn't include sweeping the stage. I dusted myself off. "What do you mean?"

"Excuse me?" She was easy to look at, one of those gym nut types with trim biceps and rounded calves, a sleeve of tatoos ran down one tanned arm and ended with a rose. She kept waving those biceps , making her hair move in a smooth brown curtain. "You pull off this hoax and you ask me what?"

"No hoax. I was being dramatic."

"Great. You're more out of your mind than I thought. My name's Lulu," she said, and extended a hand full of painted red fingernails.

"Mike," I said.

She was packing her video recorder into a leather satchel. "So explain. What were you doing?"

"I was trying to build a mass movement."

"A mass what?"

"I figured everyone was busy all the time doing nothing because we didn't know what to do about anything. So I wanted to find something we could do together."

"Like what?"

"Convince Osama bin Laden to call for world peace because if he steps up to the plate, then the rest of the big leaguers will have to play ball with him."

She shook her head. "You call that a strategy?"

"You got something better?" We were almost out the front entrance. "But now I've ruined everything. I've got all those people mad at me for being a fake. I can just forget everything."

"But don't you see?" she said. "You got everyone to start chanting around the theater. It worked."

I hadn't considered that. "You're right!" I said. "Will you help me to build a mass movement?"

She swung the satchel over her shoulder. "Sure," she said. "I don't have any contracts right now."

"The economy's been in the toilet," I said as we walked out together.

She asked, "You in high-tech also?"

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

No. 9 By Design
Which is where I wanted to be, to go home wherever that was. Any place as long as it was far away from my comic book life.

The Nike guy lifted his heel from the back of my head. "Stop that stuff," I heard him say. "C'mon, you don't have to do that." I heard scuffling, but all I could think of was that my arms hurt twisted behind my back, something I hadn't bargained for.

Prowlie and I had met on Glass Beach near Fort Bragg, a place that had begun after World War II as a city dump, but had changed in my lifetime as the best place this side of the Mississippi River to hunt for beach glass, all kinds of it, blue, green, softly mottled shades of white. It was during the time when I went to community college and was on spring break. We were both at Glass Beach going through the dump and did some trades. He said he had a customer for the purple glass I'd found.

"Hold this glass up to the sun," he said extending the purple shard my way, "and tell me what you see." We ended up spending the rest of the afternoon together and I slept in his rust-bucket trailer.

"Sarge, let's leave," one of the riot gear guys said, dropping a gun to his side. "I don't want to be arrested."

"Wus," hissed the Nike sarge, and stepped on my head harder.

"You're enjoying this way to much," I said to him.

I saw someone else come up to the stage and whisper something in the sarge's ear. In the meantime, the chorus of "Remember Abu Ghraib," was getting louder. People were pouring out into the aisles and walking around the back and the front of the cinema. Even though this was only the morning, other people were walking from off the street to find out what was going on.

In a few minutes, the cinema manager was on the scene. He said to me, "Hey, we didn't talk about my losing money. I thought you were going to work on my Web site." Then he ordered everyone in a voice that was louder than any Dolby system, "Get your sorry asses out of here. All of you."

Monday, May 23, 2005

No. 8 Stays at the Gate
As I lay there with my nose flattened on the wooden floor, all I could think about was Prowlie, my childhood friend who taught me how to cash in beer bottles for their resale value, and how to fool a fish into tasting the disguised metal of a hook.

Prowlie, a lean bean-pole of a man whose head was balanced upon a lancet of spine, got his name because he always hung out in one of the many parking lots that fronted Highway 1. He was a working man, and made his living by hustling tourists who got in and out of their cars, offering recommendations for the best hamburger joint along the coast, the best place to see wildflowers on the other side of the rainy season, where to go to get a transmission fixed without paying an arm and a leg, and where to buy anything else you wanted. Of course, Prowlie had a complicated system of referrals and kick-backs, which were all invisible to his customers and to their whining kids. But at the end of the day, Prowlie never felt he was taking advantage of anybody; no, he was a one-man Chamber of Commerce.

He dressed the part, too, convinced me to let go of a broad-brimmed hat because he said it made him look, "dignified," and always wore a belt in his pants; knew enough about keeping his hands and feet clean and chewing a toothpick to keep his teeth healthy. Tourists wouldn't allow just anybody to sidle up to their SUVs. It took a special kind of person.

His customers gave him something back, too. They told them their stories. How they hated their jobs, or hated their wives and husbands, how they wished they'd moved up to the coast to be near nature but never had the nerve, or how they were driving to a funeral or to visit the redwoods for the very first time.

Prowlie loved the redwoods. He said his mother bore him in a grove outside of Crescent City. "I'm just like the salmon," he told me. "I want to keep going back."
No. 7 is no Trip to 7-11
They pulled my arms behind my back and one of the was forcing me to the floor, all this in front of about 300 witnesses. "Geez," I thought these guys are stupid." One of them looked a lot like the guy popping milk duds in the front row except his Nikes were really clean. I knew because his white laces were almost running a plumbline inside my nostrils.

"You can't do this," I said, choking on my saliva. "Did you ever hear of freedom of assembly?" By this time I was lying spread-eagled with my head downstage.

Nike guy guffawed. "Wise guy, huh. Did you hear what he said?" I think he was addressing the audience. "Ever hear of Homeland Security?"

"Hey, Bub. This is a seminar on outsourcing messages," said the milk duds guy in the front row, who stood up and stacked his double-chins into a single column.

"Huh?" said the Nike guy, digging his paws into my arm.

"This is a technical seminar," said milk duds. "I've got witnesses," and he pointed to the audience. "We all came here this morning to learn something. Now I know what."

A woman swept a recorder above her head. "You're in a shit load of trouble. And I've got the video to prove it." Then she shouted, "Remember Abu Ghraib."

Suddenly, everyone starting chanting with her, "Remember Abu Ghraib, Remember Abu Ghraib," and the guy pinning me to the floor was starting to turn the same color as his Nikes. The rest of the riot squad was left standing in the aisles.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

No. 6 is Quick
Venus was in retrograde, but I wanted to give this group of Busyites who could've just as easily gone to their jobs and slept until noon instead of coming here, their money's worth.

"What we need to do will change tide tables. What we have to do will make each one of us grow two feet. We need to find Osama bin Laden and talk about peace. Because unless we start talking, it's a big mumble. And there's nothing like a terrorist with clout in Washington. Then our days and nights will grow more rhythmic, and we won't wait for the next thing to divert our brains. We'll be able to feel each other."

But before I could put my lips together for the next word, the cinema doors were pushed open by several dozen officers dressed in riot gear. They rushed to the stage. "Arrest that motherfucker! Arrest that terrorist!" I realized they were pointing at me.

Friday, May 20, 2005

No. 5 is no Jive
"Who do you think you are?," asked a large Afro-American man whose jacket had a single button that rested at the widest point of his stomach.

"I'm doing the show."

"But where's your ticket?"

"I don't need a ticket." He waved me inside with an annoyed snort.

So there I was on the stage in my jeans and t-shirt watching people find a seat. It was amazing to witness the numbers of my colleagues who wanted to postpone the inevitability of going to work on a Monday morning. The first third of the theater was filling up. The Egyptian mummies and hieroglyphics decorating the side of the theater were shining in gold-paint glory. I watched more people sit down and park a laptop computer where a giant slurpie should've been. Some wore their best grungies, others were actually suited up and tucking business cards inside their pockets. Let the networking begin.

Then I panicked. "What the fuck was outsourcing messages about and why hadn't I thought about this sooner?" I asked myself. So I did what I was best at -- bullshitting.

"Hi, everyone," I said. My name is Mike Powers," and I'm the one who invited you to this seminar. Sorry we have no coffee and bear claws, but I couldn't convince the management to give up their concession in the back. But if you want a Coke and a box of popcorn, they can help you out." A polite wave of smiles flickered through the crowd like a flashlight. "This morning we're going to be talking about outsourcing messages," I said.

"Are they going to be taking more jobs away from us?" asked a man in the front row who was folded inside several double chins, and was popping milk duds into his mouth at an amazing rate.

"It's worse than that," I said. "Unless we find a way to speak to each other, we can kiss any kind of system we got going good-bye. They'll be no networks, no streets, no nothing. What I'm talking about is the disappearance of music and dancing as we know it today. No parties. Weekends will become indistinguishable from the rest of the week. Existence will become pure survival without fun."

The man with the milk duds was popping the last one into his mouth. He reached for his slurpie. It was deep purple.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

No. 4 Hits the Floor
If I know how to do anything it's about establishing separate proprietary connections with partners. But partner is the operative word here. I had to figure out a way for the many to hook up with the few, the many in this case being, all my friends who were suffering from the same busy syndrome that was sending our social lives down the toilet, and the elusive Osama. Basically, everyone had to get on the same page so we could turn one over.

I decided to have a rally, a first megaphone point with one setting, which was always on loud. The local movie theater seemed like a good place. During the day, especially in the morning, the only thing it was filled with was stale popcorn. Plus, the owner was a progressive kind of guy who used the theater's marquee to exhort the public to impeach George Bush. I figured he wouldn't mind renting one of the smaller theaters to me at a cut-rate price, maybe even do a trade, just in case he needed some IT work on the theater's Web site.

I sent out email to all my friends and people who somehow were inhabiting my Outlook address book, about a seminar for IT professionals that had to do with outsourcing messages. Was I being misleading? Well, not necessarily. I was only handing over one jig-saw piece of the puzzle. But mostly, I wanted to make it possible for my friends to get an hour off from their jobs, just in case they weren't working from home like me and able to shift for themselves. I was giving them a way to sell this thing to their managers. "C'mon, a free seminar. It'll only be an hour." Everyone knows that most programmers eat by 11am. I called the meeting for 10:00am.

Friday, May 13, 2005

No. 3 is Me
So there I was sitting at my desk sipping a Coke, watching the bubbles erupt into caramel-spice fissures. If I were a chemist, maybe I'd have analyzed the contents, instead of thinking about my baking soda science experiments in third grade with a bunch of green vomitous goop that had oozed from the center of a clay volcano. But since I'm a XML programmer and not a chemist, my mind quickly drifted from the contents of soda to something completely different. It was the Spiderman decal on the outside of my plastic cup. And it was moving. Actually, it wasn't moving. But the light from the 3 o'clock sun had passed through the cup and reflected what looked like a few letters on my cubicle wall. I know you're thinking this poor guy has been staring at the computer screen for too long. But it was really there, some unknown alphabet I'd seen in my reading but couldn't place. I'd copied the letters down on graph paper and scanned them into the computer, then went into Google hoping to find a match. With a bit more research, I had my answer. In Aramaic, the letters spelled, "You, too, brute." Suddenly, I knew what I had to do. It was more clear to me than anything I'd ever done before. The tone and slant of the letters were all there. I had to find Osama bin Laden and convince him that he was the only one who could bring peace to the world. The alternative was too scary.

But if the CIA, U.S. Special Operatives, the Pentagon, drug dealers, and hired guns from throughout the world could not find Osama bin Laden, how the fuck was I, armed with a collection of Beastie Boy t-shirts and a week's supply of Chicken Top Ramen, going to convince him to come out of hiding?

I just had to. Bin Laden was the only one at this point in time, who could put up two fingers and say, "Peace Out," and really mean it with a vengeance.
No. 2 No Ones are Alike
But just so you don't think I'm a hedonistic creep, I absolutely understand my social life isn't the only thing around. I have some kind of consciousness, even though I only recently arrived in the city after my parents died. I paid off my own college loans, indentured to the workforce before I was old enough to buy a bus pass. I ate my share of donuts and pizza in community college trying to feed myself, which has contributed to this Michelin tire that I'm trying to work off on the jogging track. It all filters down. So what are we going to do? Wait for a new cultural phenomenon like when hip-hop was real and fresh to pull us out of the doldrums? So I came to a decision. I felt good about it. I had this sense of certainty in my gut. It was the same sense I had when my writing teacher in community college told me I'd never amount to anything unless I figured out how to put together a sentence. I'd break into a cold sweat anytime I was in the same room with a keyboard, unless it was to program. I sweated it out, but I managed to put one sentence in front of the other. So I knew. It was the right thing to do. I was going to build a mass movement.

But my outstanding question was how, how was I going to build a mass movement? Now there was a guy I grew up with in Eureka; Prowlie, we used called him because he was always prowling around trying to hustle the tourists along Highway 101 who were on their way to see the redwoods, who use to talk to me all the time. Actually, he didn't say much, but one thing he did say stuck with me.

"Kid, you need to look at the world through your own glass and watch the light spread."

Now, of course, that didn't tell me anything about how to build a mass movement, but at least it was a place to start.

Thursday, May 12, 2005


No 1 Front Street

If I hear it again, I’m gonna scream. “Can’t.” “Got to go.” “Sorry, I’m busy.”

“Busy, busy, busy,” what the fuck is everyone so busy doing? I wondered to myself after calling up friends to see who’d like to zoom by and head off to the downtown microbrewery, pick up a jazz quintet that was getting good reviews in the local newspaper. And plus, the place poured enough beer to last for an entire set. A good deal, if you'd asked me.

“Nah, man, I’d really like to come by, but I’m busy.”

“Sure, I’ll catch you later,” I said.

“Call me up another time, uh, maybe the end of the week? I’m really busy.”

“Talk to you later,” I said.

I was getting pissed off. What was everyone doing, and why wasn’t I doing it with them? I understand the ordinary meaning of busy. Meaning, I’ve got to reload a program on my computer, got to work late, have great tickets for tonight, or want to watch the game on TV. But this was a different kind of busy. A busy that made me edgy because it had no name. All my friends were in a state of being busy, meaning they really didn’t know why they were busy, only that they just were.

“So what are you doing tonight?” I asked. “Maybe I can join you?”

“Nothing special.”

“Then how can you be busy?”

“Don’t ask so many questions, man. I just am.”

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have made a big deal about it. I’m as capable as the next guy of spending time by myself. There’s always the television, or I could do some shopping because the last time I looked in the refrigerator, which was last night, I saw a package of cheese and a jar of spaghetti sauce, and I knew I didn’t want to have that again for dinner. Plus, if I got really ambitious, I might decide to drop by the cleaners and pick up my shirts, or play a few rounds of live billiards on the computer. But I’m a caring kind of guy and something was happening to my friends. They all sounded nervous and preoccupied. Busy.

“What do you mean, busy?”

“Geez, some guys are persistent.”

“I only asked,” I said.

“I don’t know, man. I have a lot on my mind. Have you watched the news lately? I don’t know how to handle it.”

“So why don’t we go out and have a good time?”


“Let me guess,” I said. “You’re busy.” That didn’t go over big. I heard a click.

Well, I didn’t know much more than I did before. But that won’t stop me. Here's my theory about busy. There's so much going on, it's starting to implode. The hostage situation, car-bombs, fathers screwing their kids and blowing them up with guns, nuclear show-downs, kids with no schools to go to school to. Man, this shit is affecting my social life.