Friday, December 27, 2002

What Wes Won't Do by Anitra L. Freeman

I have once more volunteered to do Dr. Wes's column for him, because he's tired.

Wes wants to take this opportunity to have me write about all those things that people want him to write about that he doesn't want to write about, because he's tired.

For instance, a reader would like Wes to write about the permanent adolescence of George W. Bush. This makes Wes very tired indeed.

Now other than thinking that this sounds like a very poetic title, "The Permanent Adolescence of George W. Bush," I wasn't sure that I agreed with the premise. Even when I was an adolescent female, I never despised adolescent males that much.

Would an adolescent male deal with his unpopularity by picking a fight with the first person who gave him an excuse? Well... But would an adolescent male be so determined to have a fight that no matter what the other person did to keep the peace he'd make up a new reason why it wasn't good enough? Well...

Okay, but do you really think he's going to grow out of it in a few more years?

Michele "For God's sake, Anitra, you've known me long enough, you'd better be able to remember that it has only one L" Marchand would like me, or Wes, or me being Wes, or Wes being me, or somebody anyway, to write about Ruth Lilly leaving a hundred million dollars of her pharmaceutical daddy Eli Lilly's fortune to Poetry magazine.

There are several possible reactions here:

  • "Why did she leave that much money to POETRY!?"
  • "Why didn't she leave the money to Real Change? WE publish poetry."
  • "Why is everyone so shocked at big money being given to poetry?"
  • "So, is the magazine going to pass any of that on to the poets?"

Let us cut to the chase here. As the purported purpose of this column is advice to poets, I would like to advise that in my opinion the time for the unionization of poets has at last come. Somebody who publishes poetry finally has some money. Since, under the administration of a permanently adolescent male, people who read poetry are soon not going to have any money at all, selling self-published chapbooks is no longer the lucrative gig that it was supposed to be. Getting paid by a rich publisher is much more dependable.

Stan "A Published Author" Burriss would like Wes to write about the quotations etched in the stone of the triangle at the Second Avenue Extension. He believes that Wes could say something about these quotations that would touch you, the readers, warmly.

Wes is against touching people warmly without their prior permission. And he doesn't know where you've been.

My objection is that if writing can't speak for itself, it needs to be rewritten. So next time you are at the Second Avenue Extension, look. I didn't realize the writing was there myself until Wes told me.

Don't ask Stan about this. He won't remember. Ask him about Rumi.

Then there are the standard things that Wes is asked to write about regularly.

The inside scoop on everything wrong at "fill in the blank" shelter:
Folks, homeless people have been murdered on the streets of Seattle at the rate of one every three months this year. Nobody has been murdered in a homeless shelter. Like sex, as long as shelter is by consent, the worst there ever was wasn't really bad at all. Compared to the alternative.

Every rally in Seattle that ever was:
Like poems, these speak for themselves. Like poetry, they could always use more attention. But for us to tell you how great they were is preaching to the choir. I have another suggestion: how about for the next rally (you can find it in the calendar section) you take along one or two friends who aren't convinced of the cause yet?

I don't want to write about any of those things. What I want to write about is Congrescent Singulitarians. I have just discovered that there is a website for Congrescent Singulitarians. I would like to announce that, in retaliation, I am beginning a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Words.

Write On!
© Anitra Freeman 2002

Friday, December 13, 2002

I Can Picture Butts Anytime

As you might expect, we here at Adventures in Poetry care a lot about freedom of speech. When I say "we", of course, I mean mostly me, since I am the one spouting off.

However an event has occurred that has made me concerned for the safety of Real Change from the enemies of free speech, everywhere. And do I ever mean everywhere. I am talking naturally about a recent High Court decision in Australia to let Joe Gutnick of Melbourne, Australia, sue the publishers of some website for libel in Australia instead of in the US where the website originated. Needless to say, in Australia libel is easier to prove.

Can you see my concern? Prior to hearing about this decision, nothing could have induced me to say anything that could possibly be considered libelous about Joe Gutnick of Melbourne, Australia or any of his compatriots. But now I have been tempted. I find myself uncontrollably entertaining entirely speculative thoughts about Joe Gutnick, about his personal and physical attributes, thoughts that if given expression might provoke litigation. I am even having these thoughts about Australians in general.

For example, there is Senior Sergeant Michael Purcell, police prosecutor somewhere in Queensland, the Australian state I have previously known mainly for its surplus of cane toads. Mr. Purcell has said, and I quote, "If we allowed everyone who wanted to drop their pants and moon police officers, we are undermining the authority of the police." Mr. Purcell was reacting to the claim by a citizen, a Mr. James Togo, to the effect that mooning a police officer ought to be protected free speech in Queensland at least.

Here's what I'm thinking. I'm thinking an Australian court has said Australia has a right to tell me what I can say on the internet, even though I'm thousands of miles from Australia. OK, then I should be able to weigh in on the police-mooning debate in Queensland. I say, Queenslanders, go for it. Moon them all. It should be totally legal. If they can say you can't speak with your butt, what'll they say next, that you can't speak with your fingers? That would be tyranny. Are you going to allow tyranny in Australia? What, are you all wusses?

But it doesn't end there. Mr. Purcell had to go on to say that he could not imagine naked buttocks replacing the kangaroo and emu on Australia's Coat of Arms. I read that and immediately Mr. Purcell fell into the Joe Gutnick category in my mind. It was all I could do to resist saying bad things about Mr. Purcell, things that in all likelihood could be proven to be libelous in Australia, if only Mr. Purcell were willing to say, "Liar, liar, pants on fire," under oath.

In order to resist the temptation to libel Sergeant Purcell, I am right now imagining naked buttocks replacing the kangaroo and emu on Australia's Coat of Arms. Hey, it's easy! I bet you can do it too. Imagine a kangaroo. Imagine an emu, next to it. If you don't know what an emu looks like, think of Big Bird without all the yellow. Now instead of the kangaroo and the emu, imagine a naked butt. There you go, it's not that hard when you take it step by step. I believe that proves that Sergeant Purcell has the imagination of a bottle of ketchup.

Speaking of butting in (ha!) on other people's free speech issues, I've got to talk about the cross-burning case that just landed at the feet of the US Supreme Court, because it is very important, even though there do not seem to be any Australians involved, only Virginians.

I'm not going to say how the Supreme Court should decide this one because I'm no lawyer and I don't know, maybe there's a flaw in the Virginian law that I don't know about that needs addressing. But I am going to spout off about the free speech issue of cross-burning in the abstract.

I think if cross-burning is to be protected speech, then gun-pointing should be protected speech. They both mean the same thing.

In my opinion all would-be cross burners should go to Australia and moon policemen. Then this would be a beautiful world.

Thursday, November 28, 2002

The Bigger the Houseboat, the Better

I hate the thought of staying in a shelter. In fact in all my time being homeless I never once stayed in one.

Gym locker rooms, libraries, marches, square dances, mosh pits, sports stadiums, crowded buses, crowded sidewalks, packed subways, shelters, they're all the same. Places where there are too many people.

If I wanted to sleep six inches on each side from two strangers, I would be a lot friendlier than I am. People who don't know me think I'm shy, because I don't talk much around them. What they don't know is that I'm just keeping quiet to avoid encouraging them to talk to me. Why would I want total strangers to talk at me?

I'd rather sleep in a patch of nettles or poison ivy or on rocks than have to talk sports with some Biff on the next mat.

But today the subject of shelters forces itself on me. I just can't ignore the fact that New York city officials just visited the Bahamas to check out the possibility of buying one or more cruise ships, TO USE AS HOMELESS SHELTERS.

It seems a New York State Supreme Court Justice over there is actually threatening to jail city officials if they can't shelter homeless families within 24 for hours after they apply. So immediately they got the idea to buy one-way tickets to the Bahamas.

No, that's not true. First they tried other things, like putting the families in gyms and defunct hotels and even jail. Some of these ideas worked. Others drew criticism. You had your NIMBYs. You had your whining homeless advocates complaining that housing people in jails is callous and cruel. City governments hate criticism. So hey, let's check out putting them on cruise ships, they thought. Then they thought, oh, there are defunct cruise ships in the Bahamas, let's go look at them. So they did.

Now they actually have some homeless advocates ripping them for this idea. No, I don't know why.

I've got to break ranks here. I think sheltering homeless families on defunct cruise ships is a terrific idea. I would especially like to see it done here in Seattle. I would even consider becoming homeless again if I were sure of getting a suite for myself and Anitra "On Whose Kitchen Floor I Have Sometimes Slept" Freeman, whom I would pass off as family for the purpose.

Think about it. People love houseboats. Houseboats are an integral part of Seattle's tradition. Why should just Tom Hanks get to live on a houseboat? Why shouldn't homeless people live on houseboats, too? OK, so you can't have a separate houseboat for every homeless person or family. So you do the next best thing. You spend a measly $20 million (that's around what the cheaper of the ships in the Bahamas would cost) for a cruise ship. You spend another few million to rip out stuff you won't let the homeless have, like the bar and the disco and the pool. Then you've still got a hell of a houseboat! I would be proud to live on one of these.

The ships examined hold thousands of people. Of course some space would have to be reserved for the crew and the all important activities director. Even without the bar people are going to need activities. It would be cruel to deny people shuffleboard under the circumstances.

Even when you add in janitorial and other maintenance I'll bet the whole thing could be done for a mere thirty million down plus a few million a year. Where can you find a housing bargain for that? And no NIMBYs except at the end closest to shore!

Maybe we could snag some old surplus battleships or submarines to use for shelters, too. The Navy just uses the old ones for target practice anyway. I bet Seattle could get a bunch for no more than what we would spend for one lousy skyscraper. And they already have beds in them. Imagine the savings that represents.

All in all, a sound, realistic, proposal. Let's get started!

Thursday, November 14, 2002

Boys Will Be Boys

Let's talk about raining death upon our enemies!

I first realized that I had enemies when I was about 3 years old and some 4-year-olds stopped me on the sidewalk and threatened to beat me up. I began to carry a big stick around with me to fend off vicious 4 year olds. But for some reason at that time the idea of raining death upon them did not even cross my mind.

Then I started hearing Bible stories that ended with the Lord smiting here and there. Still, the idea of personally raining death was slow in forming. In second grade I remember wanting lightning to strike both Helen (a girl who couldn't stop kicking me because she loved me too much) and my teacher (who wouldn't let me kick Helen back because she was a girl.) Preferably at the same time. But I saw the whole lightning striking thing as belonging to the Act of God category, not something that I might control on my own.

Perhaps I was behind in my development, in need of a Piaget breakthrough. Or maybe I didn't have enough positive death-raining models to emulate. My parents never let me read Conan the Barbarian books. There was nuclear war, but that was all so abstract and hazy, with talk about so many millions dead at a time, when what you really want is to smite selectively. You just want to take out your stupid neighbor, your stupid relatives, your stupid principal, stuff like that, not all of Wisconsin.

I would be interested in hearing other people's experience in this regard. In my own case, it was during 5th grade that I first remember fantasizing about smiting my enemies one-at-a-time. When my English homework was due and I didn't have it, what better solution than to turn into a wild man-killing wolf-dog beast and snap Miss Larson's neck and drink briefly of her hot blood before hurtling away to leave the rest of her to the worms and to seek fresher game at gym class?

Unfortunately I was unable to master the whole boy-wolf-boy transition.

My next idea was to become invisible for short periods of time, just long enough to garrote each target, presumably with an invisible garrote. This also did not pan out. Not that I would have garroted anybody actually, we're still talking fantasy here, but I would have liked having the option, thank you.

Then, sometime around age thirteen I started to get more realistic. I dreamed of death rays fired from remote controlled robot planes. On the day of the big English test a small plane could be seen circling Asa Mercer Middle School if only the guilty knew where to look. But they wouldn't look up – the plane would be inaudible at that altitude, and there would be nothing to alert the doomed teacher to its presence in the sky above. A mile away a boy genius sitting at a console in his basement would be operating the plane's controls. A miniature TV camera on the plane equipped with a powerful telescopic lens would relay target images to the boy who would wait for just the right moment to push the button that would instantly fry the unsuspecting English teacher. Hah! So much for Silas Marner.

The neat thing about death rays is that they don't require bullets. If they did, then someone who was smarter than you could invent a ray gun that would shoot the bullets. But you can't shoot rays with rays. Everyone knows that.

If any of you think that ray guns shooting bullets are unrealistic, you haven't heard of the Mobile Tactical High-Energy Laser MTHEL (I think we should pronounce that like "missile" with a lisp.) The other day the MTHEL successfully took out two artillery shells on-the-fly. OK, it's too big to be a personal death ray, but they're working on shrinking it.

Meanwhile, all of you must have heard about the alleged terrorists who were assassinated by a Hellfire missile shot from a remote controlled robot plane.

Are you putting all this together? Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

Are you thinking that our national security is in the hands of men who think like adolescent boys?

Thursday, October 31, 2002

Stupid Stereotypes Rule, Sadly

As I've been saying, I was once a cab driver during the eighties. I say it this way to describe it as a passing thing, like saying I once thought to visit a whorehouse but changed my mind, or I once ate a raw oyster but now I see where I went wrong.

I know, you see, that if I were still a cab driver, or just identified as the type, I would also still be subjected to the same stale dumb stereotypes. I would rather be subjected to fresh smart stereotypes.

There's the "thief" stereotype. All cab drivers are assumed to be thieves until they happen to prove themselves otherwise. Of course there is rarely an opportunity to prove yourself honest in a ten minute car ride. The best you can do is to prove yourself an ineffective thief. "Heh, heh," the rider thinks later, "he didn't cheat me that time. He must be really STUPID."

A beautiful example of the public's attitude happened to me once when I was sent to pick up a Times employee. Our company had some sort of deal with the Times to be their cab company of choice.

Usually I didn't know one Times employee from any other, but I recognized this one right away as a certain weekly columnist whose writings I had admired. Not that I could afford to buy the Times every day back then, but if I could I would always look for What's-His-Name's column. Which column always ran with a picture of him looking ten years younger, so I knew it was What's-His-Name.

So I said, "Gosh, golly, you're What's-His-Name, aren't you? You're my favorite local newspaper columnist," or words to that effect. Except that I attempted to utter his actual name. This was my first mistake. He angrily informed me that I was mispronouncing his last name, and that I should know better, for it's a very common Outer Slobovian name, and if I really cared about his writing I would know he was an Outer Slobovian-American, and if I cared about reading in general I would have learned how to pronounce all Outer Slobovian last names out of love for language. The fact that I didn't know how to pronounce Outer Slobovian last names proved in fact that I either was LYING about admiring him, or that I discriminated against Outer Slobovians.

OK he didn't say Outer Slobovia. He was descended from people from a real country with a real name that I didn't care about. He had me there. So I tried to recover by emphasizing again that I really did like his writing. At this point he said, "Don't think you're going to get a tip for flattering me, I don't tip crooks."

Then there's the "stupid" or "scatterbrain" stereotype, popularized by Christopher Lloyd on "Taxi." I generally liked that one because I would rather be stupid than immoral, but even that got old.

As I approached What's-His-Name's destination he seemed to soften and actually said something pleasant to me. He asked me what I thought of Stephen King. I said I hadn't read anything by him, as I wasn't into horror these days, as my life had enough of the personal kind. This was followed by a tirade from What's-His-Name about how ignorant all cab drivers were.

Since then, I haven't enjoyed reading What's-His-Name's column so much, although I did enjoy parts of the one he did many years ago about his trip to China and how the awful nasty Chinese didn't personally supply him with Western toilets everywhere he went. That was funny.

Speaking of stale dumb stereotypes, the Washington, D.C., area (alleged) sniper(s) sure have a lot of often negatively stereotyped people wishing HE'D been from Outer Slobovia or some other imaginary fly-away republic.

Recently there have been folks who have gone to great lengths to try to prove that homeless ex-military are rare. Real ex-military people are supposed to be too well trained and too self-reliant to ever become homeless. Finally one gets in the news and he's a damn serial killer. What a pain.

The Good News: Now everyone sees Washington State as a breeding ground for serial killers, what with this guy, Bundy, the Green River Killer and that Twin Peaks show all going to prove it. So if I go east, and I want a little space, all I'll have to do is remind folks of where I'm from. We're bad.

Thursday, October 17, 2002

Everything Reveals Everything

Last issue I talked about my cab driving history. Since then I have been met with deep, penetrating questions by my readers. Questions such as, "What?" and, "So how was it?" So I have decided to keep at it a while longer.

The nice thing about cab driving is that it's just like everything else. So if you talk about it enough, eventually you've talked about everything else anyway. That's why poetry works!

Take fear for instance. Fear is a big subject these days, what with Home Security, snipers, Saddam, et al. Rather than talk about fear of Iraq I can talk about cab driving. It's all the same.

I began cab driving in fear of it. I was just quitting a job that had been making me ill, and I was looking for something completely different. That day, the newspapers were all about a cab driver who had been shot to death for the fun of it, in South Seattle off of Rainier Valley. The murderers were still at large. I read the stories and immediately thought, "That cab company will be needing a new driver," and I signed up with them that Monday.

There was training, and the next thing I knew I was set loose on the whole of Seattle to drive cab anywhere I wanted in the city, six nights a week, twelve hours a night. I was expected to work where the business was, but now a new fear set in. I found I had a powerful dread of working unfamiliar neighborhoods. I lived in the Rainier Valley dispatching area. That was the area I knew, so that's where I worked. Even though the murderers were still out there.

Isn't that just the way it always is, folks? You back away from one fear and another one is breathing down your neck right behind you. I think a grand unifying philosophical principle is involved here. Some day vinyl may be implicated, also.

But back to the fear. The thing we all do in cases like this is ask, "Where are the police? We need police to catch these murderous thugs." All right, I'll tell you where the police were. They were all over Rainier Valley doing their drug busting and breaking up domestic violence, all the stuff you see them doing on Cops.

And guess what the police do when they are breaking up a fight in a family and they need to get one of the parties out of the area? Do you think they haul them out in a patrol car? No way. They put them in cabs and ORDER the cab drivers to take them somewhere, and don't pay the drivers.

One day I was ordered to take a teenage girl who had been beaten by her father to Harborview Hospital. Trouble is, she and her sister who came along didn't want to go to the hospital.

Well, I shouldn't commit kidnapping just because the Seattle Police order me to. The girls wanted to go to a 7-11, so that's where we went.

Wouldn't you know it? The father drove up in his Caddy right after we got there, and the sisters proceeded to fight over which one of them would have the honor of shooting him in the face with a pistol they were carrying.

After one of them waved the gun in the father's face and after a passing gang (I'm not kidding) intervened and took away the gun, the police showed up and lined everyone up against the wall but me. I was the only witness willing to cooperate. Without me the police couldn't prove anything.

I was all set to witness the whole thing when the officer put the girl who had brandished the gun back in the cab sitting right next to me, in the front seat, and she pretended her finger was a gun and stuck it in my ribs. Or I thought she was pretending. But I couldn't be sure so I started to get out of the cab, to get a little away from her, when the same officer karate kicked the door on me. In that one blinding instant I learned always to fear the police.

Suddenly I couldn't remember seeing anything. There's poetry at you again.

Thursday, October 3, 2002

Don't Flip me No U-235

Well, now I'm distracted again. Saturday I was trucking right along, doing what I usually do, namely contemplate the meaninglessness of existence. That is, I was thinking how I was OK with the meaninglessness of existence as long as it (the existence) continued unabated and without any serious dips in quality. And then CNN reports that 34.6 pounds of possibly weapons-grade uranium was found in a Turkish taxi.

34.6 pounds of U-235 here, 34.6 pounds of U-235 there, & pretty soon, holy crap, WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE.

As many of you know I have a naturally distractible constitution. I take pills for it and nice doctors help me find ways to cope with irrational anxieties and fears BUT THIS ISN'T ONE OF THE IRRATIONAL ONES.

So I am coping away anyhow, ha, ha, thinking about taxi driving. There's nothing like a cab story to make me think of my own old cab driving days.

I drove for one of Seattle's big taxi companies back in the eighties when cab driving in Seattle sucked. I don't like to say the name of the cab company 'cause they still might have hard feelings about it all, but their cabs were green.

In those days I was even crazier than I am now and the dispatchers knew it so they didn't bother me too much. They let me sleep in my cab all I wanted and gave most of the good business to the one or two sane drivers. But sometimes the dispatchers would wake me up, if they had something that really seemed urgent, because they knew that I was kind of geeky and that on account of that they could trust me to find most any address.

So one day when I was up in North Seattle I was told over the radio to go to Stevens hospital in Edmonds and "get the package." Even though I'd never been to Stevens, the dispatcher was sure that I could find it. It was wonderful to inspire such confidence and I drove out there glowing with pride for being so useful.

I wondered what it would be this time. Once it had been a cornea. I had wondered what the recipient would say if he/she knew that the cab driver that brought it to the hospital was a homeless man who couldn't, himself, afford cab fare. Sometimes I carried blood samples for AIDS testing. Once it was a mystery organ in an ice chest. The most important package I ever hauled was a heart monitor that I drove 100 miles to where it was needed for a child's surgery.

I loved the hospital package runs. Not only was I performing a valuable and possibly life-saving service, but also vouchers paid for the trips in advance and the passengers never started an argument.

Well, the package at Stevens turned out to be a bag of excrement bound for the Swedish Hospital pharmacy.

Now, I had enough sense to ask the people sending it what the Swedish Hospital needed with a bag of excrement. I mean, couldn't they provide their own, etc. But I was firmly told that the Swedish Hospital pharmacy would know what to do with it, and not to worry myself about it. So I shut up and took the bag and my voucher and headed south.

I made good time, so I was fairly happy when I set the bag on the counter at Swedish and announced, "package from Stevens." Then the pharmacist opened the package, looked in, and shouted at me, "WHAT THE HELL IS THIS SH*T??!!

Damn my hide. I told him, "That, the hell, is exactly what that is." Then I tried to settle him by telling him, not to worry, it was paid for.

Speaking of not worrying – of course any geek could tell you instantly that there was no way that could have been 34.6 pounds of U-235 in that Turkish cab, or the stuff would've been too hot to handle. Literally.

Now I wonder, why did they say it might have been bound for Iraq, when all the signs were it was going to Syria? It was found near the Syrian border. You don't have to go through Syria to get to Iraq from Turkey.

You'd think someone out there WANTS us to worry, wouldn't you?

Thursday, September 19, 2002

Second Happ'nin

Last year we here at Real Change celebrated our seventh year of putting out this rag. We did this for two reasons. One, any excuse for a party. Two, "seven" has Biblical significance. You've got seven days of creation, seven years of feast, seven years of famine, seven seals of the Book of Judgment, stuff like that. We wanted to plug in to that kind of action, 'cause the Bible is happ'nin.

Of course the feast/famine scenario did concern me at the time. I wondered what the next seven years could bring, given that the first seven went reasonably well. I thought, uh-oh, the second seven just likely may be reasonably rotten.

So far my fear has been realized. Seven years of Real Change was followed within the month by 9/11/01 and the ensuing economic downturn and social paranoia.

You'd think that as more people face poverty there would be more appreciation for those who have already been poor, but it doesn't work like that. You'd think that when someone earning, say, fifty thousand a year, has had to take a five thousand dollar annual pay cut, the hardship might help her/him identify with the guy who gets next to nothing on GAU, but NO. Instead, he/she blames the guy on GAU for the missing five thousand.

Many times this past year, lying awake at night, spinning the wheels in my brain, I have wondered what would have happened if all the victims on 9/11 had been homeless. Suppose, instead of flying planes into those towers, the same terrorists had managed to simultaneously bomb and obliterate twenty or thirty fully occupied homeless shelters all across the US. I hate to say it, but I don't think we would be in a recession now. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think we would be talking now about eliminating Saddam Hussein. I don't even think we would have attacked the Taliban or pursued Osama to the edge of the world. I think the general American public would have shrugged the whole thing off the way they shrug off famine in Somalia.

The good news: war with Iraq will probably only last a few weeks. The bad news: nothing good will be accomplished by it. Oh, some weapons of mass destruction might get destroyed, but only by means of mass destruction. An evil dictator will lose power, but the resulting turmoil will grow new evil dictators. The American economy will not benefit from the brief war; it will only serve to raise expectations in time for the November elections. In fact, if the war doesn't happen by November, it will probably be postponed altogether until 2004.

Don't get me wrong. Real Change itself is doing OK in its second seven years. But our environment has taken a noticeable turn for the worse. I wouldn't call it famine yet, but I wouldn't exactly call it feast either. Knock on wood.

So you all should understand why I haven't been too terribly eager to admit that this column just passed its own seven-year mark in August. "Anniversary? What anniversary? Look! Isn't that Osama bin Laden over there in the rugby shirt and jeans? (Columnist runs and hides.)"

Yes. I have been doing this for seven years, and the thought of that puts me in the mind to run away to Bora Bora. What could the next seven years be like? Will I again succumb to duck-licking? Will my muse, Cindy Holly, stick with me? Will I ever write in iambic tetrameter again?

Looking back at the last seven years is hard for me, because there are so few successes. OK, so we didn't end homelessness. I don't know how, but we screwed that one up. We also didn't end poverty. I kick myself every day for that.

On the other hand, we have had our victories. Or we can pretend that we have. For instance, this is the second column in a row in which we have used the word "happ'nin". But we are most proud of convincing the Seattle Times that "Dilly Dally Alley" was an icky name for their comics page (see "induced retching", this column, May 16, '02.)

In seven years, the Times comics page. In fourteen years, who knows? Maybe something pretty good.

Thursday, September 5, 2002

It's a Happ'nin!

Recently I was talking about how I am stupid. I was saying, actually, that everyone is stupid. The trick is to figure out, for each one of us, how. One of the ways that I am stupid is that I suck at history.

I don't completely suck at history. For example, I can be a part of history, no problem. You could in theory go back to certain of those old news tapes of events ("happ'nins") in the sixties and find me. OK, I would be the guy on the edge of the shot looking like I got lost on the way to the chess club, but I'm, like, there.

My problem is, I don't know where there was. In the case of the sixties this makes me good at history, because there wasn't any there there, actually. But it doesn't work for other times.

I first realized how much I was going to suck at history right at the beginning, when my third grade teacher was explaining to my class that history had to do with things like the Hundred Years War and some French girl who got herself burned at the stake and that that would be on the test. I looked around and I didn't see any charred remains, know what I mean? How should I know this girl got roasted? Then I found out that we were even supposed to know WHEN she got roasted, down to the exact year, and that it was HUNDREDS of years ago, and I knew this history thing was not for me.

One of my big problems with history was figuring out why, when we were talking about battles and what famous people were getting burned at the stake, THAT was history, but when we were talking about, say, ancient customs and what kind of culture they had, our history books were supposed to be closed because talking about culture was some kind of social studies. If history isn't social studies, what is it? I still don't get that.

Sometimes people come along with audio-visual aids that help. So back when Masterpiece Theater showed its TV version of Winston Churchill's book, the First Churchills, I learned a thing or two about history then. I learned, among other things, what papists were, that there were such people as Roundheads, that in the olden days (at least ca 1700) everybody was incredibly erudite, and that there might be worse things than just being burned at the stake, parts of you could be burned separately in front of you. Ouch!

The other thing I learned was that Winston Churchill, a former prime minister of England, who wrote the book, must have been incredibly erudite himself. Or else he couldn't have wrote it.

Speaking of audio-visual aids, I believe Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who also must suck at history but unlike me doesn't know it, has been watching too much of the History Channel. Mr. Rumsfeld is displaying all the signs of a man whose knowledge of the history of the world consists mainly in knowing how to make blowing up sounds. I wouldn't mind but now he's favorably comparing George W. Bush to the afore-mentioned Winston Churchill.

I mean, I didn't know Churchill. He wasn't a friend of mine. But shee-yeah, right.

I'd be less likely to scoff if Rumsfeld wanted to call GW Bush the William McKinley of the new millennium. Not that Churchill wasn't an imperialist in his own day, he was, he was, but I can visualize Bush being McKinleyesque without cracking up.

But that's not what I wanted to talk about in this column. What I wanted to talk about was the art of making blowing up sounds. I don't think it's wrong to be good at making blowing up sounds. I think it's a shame that more people aren't practiced at making convincing explosive noises with their mouths.

I firmly believe that the reason Rumsfeld and Bush want war with Iraq is because they have no buddies to play war with who can make good artillery and blowing up sounds.

I urge everyone who is adept at making blowing up sounds to contact the White House and offer their services in this regard. Thank you.

Thursday, August 22, 2002

Inspired by Super-Shakti Toothpaste (Really)

For this column I wanted to talk about the demise in court of the anti-postering law, but then a couple of things got in the way. First of all, I don't know anything about the demise in court of the anti-postering law. Except that it has something to do with the Washington State Constitution, a 70 or so page book that I can't begin to make heads or tails of. Second of all, a book that was lying around the office distracted me.

You may all recall that last issue in this space I alluded to the fact that Henry D. Thoreau was deceased, but that certain of his concerns live on. When reading the blurbs on the back cover of this distracting book I was shakti-ed, simply shakti-ed, to learn that the book was one of Henry's concerns. No, I wasn't, but I couldn't resist saying that. Please forgive me.

Really, the Bhagavad-Gita (or the "Gita" as we aficionados like to call it) is just like the Washington State Constitution to me. It's a 70 or so page book that I believe is very important but that I can't begin to make heads or tails of. Yet, I am strangely attracted to it, in the same way that I am attracted to ducks. I keep coming back to it year after year, only to be bewildered as ever.

Part of the attraction of the Bhagavad-Gita is that it is a big poem, after all. It is a piece of the Mahabharata, the ancient Indian epic that has been called the world's longest poem. The Mahabharata is so long that I haven't even had the endurance to see the movie, much less read the book, but I know it goes on. So it was inevitable that we at Adventures in Poetry would have to mention the Mahabharata eventually, if only as an example of another way to write a poem to get noticed (write one really really long.)

Part of the attraction is that as far as its content goes, considered as a poem, the Gita is unbelievably audacious. Who starts out to write a poem about a big battle, and then has the main guy of one side of the battle say he can't go through with it, it's wrong, and then spend the remaining vast majority of their huge poem not on details of battle blood and gore but on laying out the main guy's conversation with his chariot driver about the nature of life-the universe-and-everything? And his chariot driver happens to be the Supreme Godhead, incarnated as the blue guy in those cool Hindu paintings, so He has all the answers? Can you say "cosmic"? I thought you could.

[Try it yourselves, you budding poesists! Write a poem like the Gita. Start out by talking about somebody planning to do something, I don't know, like writing a column. Have her/him stop and say, "Naw, I don't want to do it." Then spend 70 freaking pages of poetry describing a conversation between him/her and some form of God, in which the God explains everything in the world, so that the upshot of the conversation is that at the end, God says, "So, just do it. But hey, it's up to you." Then take it to an open mike. Your audience will tell you just how audacious your poem is.]

Part of the attraction, also, is that the Gita is an ancient classic, therefore written for a world that doesn't exist anymore (it has mostly gotten worse.) This makes for a lot of the difficulty in reading it, but that just adds to the charm.

OK, sure, the surface message, which seems to be that if you belong to the warrior caste, then you ought to do war, strikes many of us today as outrageously conservative and narrow-minded. But then we think, as justifications for war go, at least this one doesn't reek of hypocrisy. And we can escape the conclusion that war is justified by rejecting the premise that there is, any more, in the nuclear age, a warrior caste.

No, certainly nobody today is born with a duty to wage war. So, as an argument to preserve the status quo and keep the conquerees conquered and the conquerors conquering, the Gita would appear to have aged.

But the Gita does speak eloquently of duty. Now, the question still is, what's that?

Thursday, August 8, 2002

And I'm Still Sore About it

Lately I've been obsessed, and I'm starting to get obsessed about it. Not just my own obsessions but other peoples'. I've come to think that no one does anything without some obsession being involved. I think this is one of my symptoms: I think too much. Did you know there are pills specifically designed to prevent people from thinking too much? I'm taking one right now. I should probably take two.

In ancient and/or precolonial times I'm told that they had a sure cure for the propensity to think too much. They'd let you at it. They'd let you live by yourself in a bare hut out in the wilderness for a good long time, all the wheels in your head spinning away about your own private world. Usually a fast or two would be thrown in. By the time you finished you'd be an acknowledged entry level expert on the spinning wheels, AKA gods, or anyway you'd be considered to have had a valuable enough experience with them to deserve some added respect. "What's up with Jim?" "Oh, he went to the spirit world and only half of him came back. Go ahead, ask him about your ancestors next time you see him."

Nowadays there is no such thing as "by yourself." There is no wilderness. There aren't even bare huts. Bare huts are specifically outlawed, on the grounds that they are "substandard housing."

Don't get me wrong. I'm all in favor of decent housing for everyone. I just think that "standard" doesn't always equate to "decent." Sometimes, when the need is for some distance between the tenant and the rest of humanity, a standard SRO is a thing of cruelty. It stunts the spiritual development. In those cases a bare hut in the wilderness would be the more decent. I'm saying, the need for Walden didn't die with Henry D. Thoreau. And I'm saying, it's a need we're talking about here, not a luxury. People's sanity is at stake.

That word "sanity" really means "clean" as in sanitary, i.e. clean in the head. What I'm talking about here is that it's impossible to stay clean in the head when you are exposed to the dirt of everybody else's head wherever you go and never have an opportunity to take a head shower.

Life in the modern world is as mentally and spiritually unsanitary as city life in the medieval world of Western Europe was physically unsanitary. It is as if we can't walk down a street without someone tossing their head-crap out their windows onto our heads. It's like, everywhere we go we're unable to take a step without stepping in someone else's head-crap. You can't even read your mail without other people's head-crap oozing out of it getting on your hands. Don't rub your eyes until you scrub down.

Some literalists think the solution is to limit the flow of ideas. The idea is that head-crap is made out of ideas so get rid of ideas and you won't have any head-crap floating around in stagnant puddles. This is like trying to solve a city's sewage problem by eliminating its food supply.

We need the free flow of ideas, but we also need time and space apart to process them, and some of us need more time and space than others, at various stages of our lives. The average eighteen year old, for example, needs maybe four years at 3000 miles, while the average 80 year old maybe could settle for a nap-time at two paces.

When I was in my mid-thirties I desperately needed two years, at least, and a minimum of a mile or so. Instead, all I got were offers of shelter space -- no more time alone than it takes to stir milk into coffee, no more space than the six inches between mats. Because the need could not be satisfied by the offer, I turned the offer down. The "choice" was really no choice. You can't choose to live without your spiritual needs any more than you can choose to live without food and water.

So I opted out of society for a year or so. 1983-84 is still a little hazy for me. I couldn't believe it when I later learned you had all re-elected Reagan in my absence.

Thursday, July 25, 2002

My Stand on the Plej of a Lejents

I want to talk about the recent 9th Circuit Court decision about the Pledge of Allegiance in schools, because it's such a hot topical subject. But then I realized that the only experience I've had with reciting the Pledge in schools is over forty years old, so in order to talk about a hot topical subject I'd have to reminisce about my passage through the Fifties as a grade schooler.

Oh well. We love irony.

Why do you suppose apples are called that? Why aren't they called brullers? Bruller sounds like an English word. A bruller should be something. Why not an apple?

In 1955, when I was six, I solved this question by noting that "apple" is a reddish word, whereas bruller has a coffee color. Therefore "apple" would be more suitable for describing apples, which are far more often red than coffee colored. So we don't call apples brullers.

At that age I spent a considerable amount of time testing the hypothesis that if a baseball was thrown at the air hard enough it would bounce off. I also believed that if I ran fast enough air would support my feet and I could climb skyward for at least six or seven feet before I got tired.

Though I lived 35 miles from Boston at the time I was sure that I could, given time and enough sandwiches in a paper sack, walk almost anywhere in the world. The question was not could I walk to Paris, but how many days would it take. I guessed somewhere on the order of a week. I knew that if I walked due east I would run into the Atlantic Ocean, but the plan would be to sidestep that.

The year before I started grade school the Supreme Court banned the leading of prayers in public schools. However the news of their decision must not have made it from Washington, D. C. to Ayer, Massachusetts, in spite of the easy walk, because my grade school there required me to recite the Our Father thingie for two years.

I call it the Our Father thingie because at that point those were almost the only words I could make out of the whole thing. The teacher would say, "Everyone bow your heads and say the Lord's Prayer," and so everyone was mumbling into their shirtsleeves. I couldn't see their lips moving and it was almost impossible to follow along.

I do remember being able to make out the part about my cup running over and "give me my daily bread." These words had me worried. What cup are we talking about? What's in it? Why is it running (runnething) over? I pictured a boiling cup of potion like in a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde movie. I didn't want to drink from a cup like that.

And since when do I have to beg for daily bread? What happened to full balanced meals? Don't I get dessert? What about give me my daily Mars bar?

I started school just one year after Eisenhower got the words "under God" added to the Pledge. Not all of my teachers accepted the change. My first grade teacher had us say it the "traditional way," i.e. without the addition. In my mind it went something like this: I plej a lejents to the flag, something, mumble, something,

for which it stands, invisible, with liberty and justice for all.

What, I wondered, was a lejent? And why was I plejing one?

I'm still not sure. And that's where I stand on the 9th Circuit Court's opinion.

OK, I'll clarify a little. What I'm saying is, let's use our schools more to teach kids things like where words come from and how big the world is, and less to indoctrinate them in religion or nationalism. The indoctrination doesn't work anyway.

Thursday, July 11, 2002


Some recent talk has got me reflecting upon the nature of stupidity once again.

You're probably right now asking, "Wes, what makes you such an expert on stupidity?" Well, I once stuck my finger in a live light socket out of curiosity. So why wouldn't I be an expert on stupidity?

But seriously, when you are a mutant as I am, your stupidities stand out in stark relief to those of the normal humans. You become more clearly aware of your own stupidities, while, at the same time, normal people's stupidities just drive you to the need for psychiatric medications.

A typical normal human stupidity is the Talk Over The Answer stupidity, or TOTA. People who exhibit TOTA have sense enough to ask questions when they don't know something, but their sense leaves them when it comes time to listen to the answer. They talk over it.

Sufferers of TOTA often have what I have identified as "negative IQ." I first discovered negative IQ when I was forced to team up on a job with a person who had a severe TOTA problem. Lets call her Ms. D. Even though I have at least an average IQ, I could tell that, while working as a team, Ms. D and I were two suits short of a full deck. I mean Ms. D brought my usual IQ down to somewhere around my ankles, and a job that took two hours to do by myself took four hours with her "help." Ms. D had a negative IQ.

One of my own stupidities that fascinates my friends is what I call my detail-discrimination impairment. This can take many forms in others, but for me it is a persistent, long term, inability to bring myself to make distinctions among objects that don't directly concern me.

For example, let's say my way is blocked by a tall woody leaf-bearing plant. I might be heard to utter something like, "Oh. Tree." To myself I might note whether the thing were a deciduous tree or a familiar evergreen, but that's about as far as I'd analyze the situation. Over the long term, since I haven't often noticed the differences between trees I've encountered, the result is that I can't tell most of them apart. Therefore, when the subject of trees comes up, I'm as stupid as two postage stamps glued to each other.

One more universal class of stupidities is what I call the Reversal Stupidities. The Reversal Stupidities manifest in a habit of thinking that if some idea isn't true, then the idea you get by reversing everything about the first idea has to be true. So you think if X isn't your friend, he has to be your enemy. You think that if X and Y are arguing, and if it's clear to you that X is wrong, then Y must be right. You think if evolution is false, creationism must be true, or vice versa. You think that if UFOs aren't glowing marsh gas, then they must be piloted by extra-terrestrials.

There is something about the hard-wiring of the human brain that causes otherwise highly intelligent people to jump to these sorts of conclusions. You have to always be alert to this kind of stupidity, and it doesn't help to think that you yourself are ever free of it.

What can help is an occasional "heads up" from a friend. We're all in this together. Here's a heads up to my well-meaning Pioneer Square neighbors who want to add limits on what alcohol can be sold there: your solution to the "alcohol impact problem" would in effect result in two sets of laws, one for the rest of the state, one for our neighborhood. We would begin to live in a de facto ghetto.

How about a solution that doesn't single Pioneer Square out for ghettohood? How about backing alcoholic treatment for everybody that wants it, wherever they live? Or, if you don't like that idea, think of a better one. How should I know what would work? But don't ghettoize my neighborhood just to inconvenience alcoholics.

Remember, they can buy their brands outside the neighborhood. I already do.

Thursday, June 27, 2002

News I Can Lose

So. Do any of you people out there read this paper? How about a show of hands?

OK then, what have you thought of that graphic at the top of page four, the News You Can Use graphic? What's been up with those guys? Why have they been reading the Dallas News all this time? What do you think they're up to? I think the guy on our right has been showing the other guy a personal ad he wrote about him. I think they're a hip, swinging, Texan couple. But we're in Seattle, which is nowhere near Texas, so why has the caption below them always said "Close to Home?"

Being on the editorial board of this august rag, I am part of the very body of individuals who has decided each two weeks to continue using the graphic of the hip, swinging Texan guys. I would in fact be the individual who insists most loudly that we keep it. I think the hip, swinging, Texan guys are cool. But the voice of Dissent grows ever louder with each issue we print. The voice of Dissent will eventually get her way, if not in this issue, then in the next, she'll get so loud. So consider those guys history.

All of this must be a metaphor for my mood. After all, all events everywhere and at all times are metaphors for the moods of me, Copyright Dr. Wes Browning. This particular event, the change of the News You Can Use graphic, is specifically a metaphor for my specifically current mood. I know this, because I am a Poet, and that's how we Poets are. This is one of the things I have learned from many valuable conversations with Cindy, Muse of Other, my Muse of Few Words.

I would be sitting around, just like now, with a deadline in two hours, whining that I didn't feel like writing. And Cindy would ask me what's going on and I'd tell her the first thing that would come to mind. Like right now I'd say that the graphic for News You Can Use is changing, and she'd say "Ah." And I'd say, "What do you mean, 'Ah'?" And she'd say, "So you've been reading News You Can Use." And she'd be right. What a smart Muse.

Of COURSE I don't want to write with all that depressing news tumbling down around me. Especially lately since we've been printing news from all around the US and Canada. Yeah, that's it. I don't want to write because the news reports I have to work from are getting too disgusting. I mean, I'm supposed to be lightening things up, that's my job, but how do you lighten up a fleet of Sherman tanks, you know? (I'm speaking metaphorically again. Get it? Sherman tanks are really heavy.)

Just to pick one example: last issue we carried a story dealing with the video "Bumfights: a cause for concern." The video is said to depict actual homeless people, "bums", engaging in drunken fights among other things, in return for such things as food and clothing. How do I lighten this up? Now you know why I'd rather go on about the Texan couple.

What we ran in the story was only a hint of how disgusting the video is. According to a report by the BBC, in addition to showing homeless people fighting each other, there are scenes of people induced to injure themselves, scenes of people pulling their own teeth out with pliers, others of a man ramming his head against walls.

Other homeless advocates have been condemning the video on the grounds that it exploits the people depicted. As an ex cab driver and former teacher, I know from personal experience that you don't have to be homeless to be exploited on this planet, and I worry a lot less about the condition of the "stars" of "Bumfights" than I do about the part of the public that considers such garbage entertaining. It's the ignorant, bored, brain dead audience that's most being exploited.

Well, that wasn't very lightening of me, was it? Still, I feel lighter for having raised the subject. I've gotten a Sherman tank off my chest.

Thursday, June 13, 2002

Don't Step In That Stupidity

We've decided that it's time that we here at Adventures in Poetry take stock of where we are, sniff the air, and then go out on some different limbs and take some hard stands on the controversial issues of the day, courageously facing any mixed metaphors that we might encounter on those limbs, staring them down the narrow ends until they lose their grips, while we miraculously keep all of ours.

For example we are opposed to homelessness, in general. But we are not completely opposed to yurts. We are reserving judgment on yurts until we have actually lived in one. We are leaning in favor of them, though, ever since we saw Julia Roberts sleep in one on TV.

We are opposed to rape. Yes, I know that may surprise some of you, because we have gone on record as being pro-sex. But we assumed at the time that everyone would understand that we meant consensual sex. I mean, we've been raped ourselves, so we know it's not nice. Rape very very bad. Consensual sex very very good.

We are opposed to unfettered capitalism. We are not communists, quite, but we think that if dogs that have once snapped at babies should have to wear muzzles in public from then on, then capitalism should be fettered. Capitalism has done a lot worse than snap at babies in its day.

However, there are good fetters and there are bad fetters. The drug war, for example, is a bad fetter on capitalism. It needs to be replaced with non-martial fetters, like drug regulation and taxation along with drug abuse treatment and education.

We are in favor of global warming only in those instances in which it can be shown necessary to counteract global cooling that might have otherwise occurred. We do not consider this to be one of those instances. There should not be ice-bergs the size of Rhode Island breaking off the Antarctic ice shelf every southern summer, in our considered opinion, until someone can figure out how to put them back.

As far as the environment in general is concerned, we are for it. We believe everyone should have an environment, not just rich people. In fact, we believe that non-humans should be allowed to have environments too, and we don't just mean whatever environments are left over on the bottom shelves, but decent quality environments comparable to the ones they had before people started taking them all.

We are opposed to police practices that result in the deaths of people who wouldn't have warranted the death penalty for their crimes, if any. In saying this, we are not in any way expressing an opposition to the police themselves, only an opposition to the practices we don't like. We could not not like the police, they have guns.

We are opposed to stupidity. But we do not believe that stupidity should be rooted out and lined up against the wall and slaughtered. In our experience, the slaughtering of stupidity only fertilizes the next crop.

It is in fact in the nature of human beings to be stupid at all times and in all places. The object can't therefore be to eliminate stupidity, because that would require the mass annihilation of human beings, and we are against that. The object must be instead to support universal education, to expose as much as possible of the stupidity to the light of day, so that our fellow humans will know how to walk around all of it, without any of it sticking to their feet.

Well, that wasn't our best batch of metaphor, but we feel like we are improving overall.

Speaking of metaphors, this whole India-Pakistan nuclear war scareis a real downer, isn't it? We are, by the way, opposed to nuclear wars.

Thursday, May 30, 2002

Only Half Stupid

Let's talk about found poetry!

One of our unstated goals here at Adventures in Poetry is to find and expose the poetry in every doorway and alley, anywhere it seeks rest from the great outdoors. We do this partly because we are lazy, and it beats making up our own poetry, but also because we think it ends up pretty good, even if it usually doesn't end up looking like poetry.

Well, the art of writing and not writing found poetry, itself, is right up one of our metaphorical alleys, snoring away as we speak. Just let me sneak up and nab it from its metaphorical behind. I'll make it breathe some metaphorical chloroform -- there, that does it, it's stopped struggling. Now let's ease it ever so gently onto the metaphorical examining table, and -- there! We're ready to talk about found poetry!

By the way, I call my last paragraph "Metaphorical Chloroform", or, when properly chopped into lines, "Opus Prose Poem Frank, Serial Number 05200230, PFC," or just Frank No Last Name, for short. It is my first poem named Frank No Last Name. I find that which I just said deeply poetic, so it's just the sort of thing that I am talking about. I do not digress!

But let's inject some Generality into our subject. Next, let's slice our subject in half. Doing so we find it consists of two pieces, one "found" and one "poetry". Well that's about as General as you can get. Now let's reel back in disgust and consider another example.

Remember that ordinarily when we make a poem while being stupid or lazy, we do it by taking someone else's poem, throwing out all the words to get an empty form, and then stuffing our own words in. The result is an ordinary poem. But in the example I am giving, half the words stuffed into the form are found words, so the result is an ordinary poem slash found poem slash mutant clone poem, or something. And since it's half as hard as a regular poem, that means it's twice as easy, so we can be twice as stupid while we write it!

"Song of the Printer's Dummy,

Packed Reluctantly Into

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star"

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet,

How'd the heck I get so wet?

Consetetur sadipscing elitr,

that's not a very good space-heater.

Sed diam nonumy eirmod,

I laid upon it with naked bod'.

Tempor invidunt ut labore,

The wetness came from out' the floor.

Et dolore magna aliquyam erat.

My song is not about a bat.

Sed diam voluptua at vero.

My song is not about DeNiro.

Eos et accusam et justo --

I sing my song with cheer and gusto.

Duo dolores et ea rebum --

a printer's dummy is not at all dumb.

Cha, cha, cha.

See how that works? Only the half that I wrote is stupid. Or is it? You can't tell without a working theory of stupidity, but all the world offers are countless theories of intelligence, as if intelligence were something more than the absence of stupidity. Oh stupid world.

But I have been talking about found poetry. I will have to talk about theories of stupidity in another issue. Perhaps when I get distracted by politics again.

Thursday, May 16, 2002

Nonconsensual Induced Retching Is Wrong

This probably won't be one of my cheerful columns, because the last few days I have been preoccupied with varieties of violence. It just seems like everywhere I look someone is engaging in some sort of violence. Sometimes it's physical and obvious like the wars in the middle and not so middle easts. Or you've got stupid mailbox bombing violence. Other times it's psychological and social violence right around here.

The funniest example of the latter appeared in Saturday's Times in the, erk, Dilly Dally Alley.

Come to think of it, right there, calling the comics pages the Dilly Dally Alley -- there's some psychosocial violence in that, isn't there? When did that start? What were they thinking? It's like those silly names some restaurants give to menu items so you can't order anything without sounding stupid. "We'd like one Dilly Willy Burger and two Dally Pally Patty Melty Welties. Oh, and Alley-Size those please." Inducing retching is a form of violence that doesn't get all the attention it deserves.

OK, but that wasn't what annoyed me Saturday. What annoyed me Saturday was the "guest" strip, Lola.

As best as I can tell, Lola is meant to be an endearingly crotchety woman of advanced years, who goes around saying endearingly crotchety things that are meant to be amusing. I don't know, I don't usually read it, but Saturday's strip caught my attention because of the appearance of a homeless stereotype, a bench-sitting bearded knit-cap-wearing shopping-cart-near-by guy, "Carl."

Lovable Lola establishes her inherent goodness at once by asking Carl if he is ready to go to church. Carl says, "Can't -- I've got a hangover," thereby rounding out the constellation of the stereotype and providing that hook that every good strip needs, making us want to read more.

In the next panel, Lola sets up the gag by saying, "You're becoming like family, Carl..." The figures are inked over to encourage the reader to hurry on to the zinger. And there it is in the last panel: Lola turns her back to Carl, and says, "I know, because sometimes I feel like smacking you."

Ha, ha! She meant THAT kind of family. She meant the kind of family where she is the one in power and she gets to hit the other members of the family and get away with it. Isn't that hilarious?

No, it isn't. It also isn't hilarious to suggest that an appropriate way to draw an alcoholic homeless man into mainstream community is to threaten him with violence if he doesn't go to your church with you.

An even subtler kind of violence has been becoming popular in, of all places, Seattle's social service workers and those connected with them. Some of the people who are in favor of proposed changes to the Noel House mission are resorting to a rhetoric that includes specifically attacking the idea of a homeless community.

Ordinarily, attacking an idea is not what I would call an act of violence.

But the idea under attack in this case is the idea that the people who are most affected by the proposed changes form a people at all. By destroying this idea, supporters of the Noel House changes would forever deny the homeless women who live at Noel House or any other homeless any right ever to speak on their own behalf.

If there is no community then there is no voice. If there is no voice, then you might as well have clipped tongues. Stealing people's voice is always an act of violence.

Thursday, May 2, 2002

No-Sitting Ordinance Prevents Hemorrhoids

I want to discuss a delicate subject today. It's a subject that we homeless and/or formerly homeless folks feel very uncomfortable discussing. It's not passing gas. It's not the heartbreak of psoriasis. It has nothing to do with hemorrhoids. Heck, homeless people almost never get hemorrhoids, they aren't allowed to sit anywhere that long.

Besides, what I have to say is more embarrassing than hemorrhoids. Here it is: Hitler Was Homeless, Too, You Know.

A month doesn't pass us by here at Real Change that some submission doesn't arrive from a well meaning supporter, which has as its gist the alternate thought that Jesus Was Homeless, Too, You Know. And we almost invariably reject said submissions, with extreme prejudice.

Writers want to know why. Now you all have it, here's your answer, I'll say it again: Hitler Was Homeless, Too, You Know.

You just can't have one without the other. If you make a big deal that one of us was a Son of God, you have to also allow that one of our number turned out to be an icon of evil incarnate.

For that matter, if I have to own Christ's homelessness, I would also have to own the temporary homelessnesses of William Shatner and Joan Rivers. Would YOU want to be compared to William Shatner and Joan Rivers? I thought not. There, now you know how I feel.

Recently a satisfied reader informed me of a site on the internet that lists "noted celebrities", both alive and dead, who have been homeless at one time, and pointed out that somehow the list mistakenly contains my name! When have I been a "noted celebrity?"

But there I am. The site is at for those who are internet linked and want to see this nonsense with their own eyes. I am on the same list with William Shatner and Joan Rivers! I'm on the same list as Sally Jesse Raphael! AND Jesus! Oh, the shame.

And the worst of it is, Hitler isn't on the list. That makes it worse, because it makes it look like we are all trying to say that we formerly homeless belong to one big club of good guys.

As if homelessness were ennobling, when it's only a very tiring and dis-abling experience, of itself.

Our goal here at Real Change is to break down stereotypes about homelessness while focusing attention on the fact that the real problem is a shortage of affordable housing. Not to make the homeless (or the obdachlosig) out to be saints.

Maybe Hitler could help there. In one respect Hitler fit the stereotype of the lazy panhandler. At least, he DID turn down some work, as being beneath his dignity. And he did resort to begging.

On the other hand, in spite of that, he managed to work his way out of park benches and into a hostel (today's reader read: "transitional housing") in a matter of months.

Also, Hitler's situation was clearly due to the overcrowding of Vienna at that time, and the corresponding lack of affordable housing. Whatever else was wrong with him, he wasn't a drug addict or an alcoholic. He wasn't even mentally ill, so much as anyone noticed at the time.

I can't quit without mentioning some other "Hitler Was ___, Too, You Know" lines.

Hitler Was a Teenager, Too, You Know. Hitler Was an Artist, Too, You Know. Hitler Was a President, Too, You Know. Hitler Was a Self-Righteous Former Smoker, Too, You Know -- he even came up with the idea of warning labels! Hitler Supported Light Rail, Too, You Know.

Hee. I made that last one up.

Thursday, April 18, 2002

Can't Draw A Leviathan? What Good Are You?

The other day I got into an argument with a vendor about whose mother was worst. From my understanding it boiled down to the fact that her mother both looked and acted like the Wicked Witch of the West, so I should give up, cry Uncle, and admit that her mother was by far the worst.

I'm sorry, but the Wicked Witch of the West was a pushover compared to my mother. My mother would not send flying monkeys to do her dirty work. My mother would go do it herself, because she thought the hands-on approach was more fun. My mother was no ugly cackling witch, either. She was pretty and personable, so she could get away with just about anything. My mother was more along the lines of your basic conniving, manipulating, torturer -- the kind that never leaves permanent marks as evidence. My mother made Joan Crawford (Mommie Dearest) look like Mary Poppins.

As usual such thoughts made me think of Job. I thought what I always think when I think of my mother, that Job didn't really have it so bad. He didn't have my Mom.

That brings up one of my chief complaints about the Bible. That whole Book of Job was really underdone, in my own disinterested, impartial, and objective opinion. I mean, I personally didn't write that Book, so it's no skin off MY nose if it's thirty chapters short of being done. I'm just saying that if it HAD been one of mine, I wouldn't have skimped so much on the details, that's all.

Maybe there just wasn't enough space for the full treatment. OK, I can see that. But really, do you think that if the author had insisted on the extra space, the editors wouldn't have slashed a few reams of begats to make room? Of course they would have.

First of all, the trials and ordeals of Job are just so understated. So, big deal, his servants were killed. He should have been happy he HAD servants. So, big deal, the fire of God burned up his sheep and dead servants, and a great wind killed his sons and daughters, and Job himself was covered head to toe with hideous sores. So what?

We all have bad days. There needed to be more detail in that part. Maybe it should've said, "And oh yes, the Lord God sent unto Job Wes Browning's Mom, and everyone did see that his suffering was great."

And sent irritable bowel syndrome. And Job should have had to endure late Sunday night TV programming, without the benefit of cable.

But the part where the Book really skimps is the part where Job and God are arguing. If I were writing it there'd be a lot more said on both sides.

Right off, I'd have God try this angle: "So Job, you think you shouldn't have things so bad 'cause you're so good. Did you ever think that was where you went wrong? Maybe I'd treat you better if you didn't think that being good automatically entitled you to it, huh?"

So then Job would go away and work on that, and then he'd come back and say, "I see your point, God, and I've mended my ways. I don't anymore believe I am entitled to good treatment for being good. So how about restoring my fortune now?"

"Good try, fleshy one! But you still expect your fortune restored, so you don't really believe what you are saying, do you? Hah! Catch 22!"

They could go back and forth like that for twenty chapters or so. Then finally Job would get smart. He'd say, "Hey! wait a minute, underlying all this is the premise that you, God, determine the Good. But suppose the Good is independent of you. Then being good, you must treat me well if it would be unjust otherwise."

At this point I would break all the conventional rules of a Biblical Book and have my ultimate protagonist (God) say, "What do you want me to be, good and just, or do you want me to be powerful enough to restore your fortune? You can't have both in this world."

I would have God spend a few chapters badgering Job into answering this question. Finally Job would give in, and true to character he would ask God to be good and just. I would then have God turn Job into a good liberal Democrat under an evil Republican administration.

Thursday, April 4, 2002

Mornings Happen

Recently I had what I would call a Fran Lebowitz Moment. I was minding my own business, getting by, when it suddenly dawned on me how certain other people are nuts.

I suddenly feel an obligation from out of nowhere to become more specific. I will yield to this sense of obligation: morning people. Morning people are nuts. This we knew already. But now I realize precisely how they are nuts. Such a realization is valuable to me. Among other things, it helps make life more interesting for me. At least, more interesting than being dead would be.

Morning people are nuts because they have an insatiable need for useless experiences and information. To a sane person, for example, dawn is a time of day to sleep through. But to a morning person dawn is a time for wondrous observations, insights and discoveries: "Look, wow, its another sunrise!" "Hey everybody! It's morning!" "The Earth is turning to face the sun again!" "Look, the sky is becoming light -- just like it did the last trillion times this happened!"

I didn't arrive at this realization all at once. It began one day when I was forced to be up at the ungodly hour of 9 in the ungodly AM. Maybe I had to go to some stupid ungodly committee meeting that morning. So that the morning wouldn't be a total waste, I turned on the radio and happened to catch a local call-in show, one obviously geared to the morning people audience, on big trees.

When I say it was obviously geared to morning people, I mean it is obvious to me now. Now I see the signs. Suppose sane people had been the audience. Then the program might have told us something useful concerning big trees, such as that you can get in out of the rain by means of them. But no, this program was not about conveying useful information. This program was about big trees. That there ARE big trees. I mean, that some trees are little, and that other trees are bigger. That some trees are biggest.

The show consisted of the local radio guy, I'll call him Steve, interviewing a Big Tree Expert, I'll call him Raoul (I forgot to take down their names, so sue me, I'm too sane.) Steve would say things like, "So I guess you've found some really big trees, haven't you, Raoul?" And then Raoul would say things like, "Once I was in British Columbia, near Vancouver, and I saw a really big one, Steve." And then people would call in, I swear they were all morning people, and they would say things like, "I saw a big tree once, you know the one I mean? It was in California." And Raoul would answer with, "Maybe you're talking about the big one I know of there. It's really big." And the listener would say, "Yeah, that's the one, it was big all right. Awesome!"

Since hearing that program I have been alert to that sort of phenomena. I have noticed that such things occur to the greatest extent in the mornings and that morning people are usually involved. For example, it was morning people who first announced at the end of February that it had been a year since last year's Mardi Gras celebration. In effect, they were telling us all that calendars could be relied upon to that degree, a fact that was probably familiar to the ancients even prior to the invention of Tuesdays.

In the last few days since the vernal equinox, morning people have blitzed the media with the Earth-shaking news that baseball will continue this year. That's right everybody, hop out of bed, you will want to be wide awake for this -- last year's season did not end baseball! They've decided to have another go at it! Isn't that just incredible?! And look! The days are getting longer!

Knowing what I now know, I can identify morning people at all hours of the day. Let's say it's 5 PM and the person I'm talking to suddenly gushes all over me about the fact that it's the 21st Century now. That would be a morning person.

Knowing that could be useful. I could recommend that person to take my place on some ungodly Real Change committee, for instance. My new motto: "Throw the morning people to the morning lions!" (Does not necessarily supercede pre-existing mottos.)

Thursday, March 21, 2002

A Ruggedly Handsome Mind?

Spoiler alert!

I've seen A Beautiful Mind, and I can't resist talking about it. I'm even going to tell you how it ends. So if you haven't seen it, save this paper, go see the movie, come back, pick this paper up again, finish reading. All right? Get going. I mean it.

Those of you who know I once was a research mathematician before I went a little "funny in the head", and who recognize that as the basic plot of ABM, will understand why I might relate to this movie personally.

Of course, John Nash, the protagonist of ABM (played by Russell Crowe, whom I am, by the way, as handsome as) was already a little funny in the head as the story of the movie began. But in truth, I was also noticeably odd prior to graduate school. They didn't call me Weird Wes for nothing. As far back as kindergarten. The thing is, in both cases we got way weirder after graduate school. Right after.

The main difference between Nash and I, besides the fact that I won't ever win a Nobel prize, is the diagnosis. Nash (whom, in real life, I am as handsome as) was certifiably paranoid schizophrenic. I was a something else wrapped up in a Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. In practical terms this means that I didn't believe MY hallucinations. But mine made up for that by being more mystical.

We've been having a little fun here at Real Change speculating as to the title that my movie will have, if ever Hollywood should get around to twisting the facts of my story. Tim "Perfess'r" Harris (whom I am as handsome as) has suggested A Perverse Mind. Anitra "I've Got Your Writer's Workshop Right Here" Freeman likes An Esthetically Challenging Mind, or A Beautiful Id. Or (she's telling me these as I write) A Nicely Dimpled Mind. Or A Mind with A Great Personality. No Really. A Great Personality.

I can't decide which I like best. Those are good ideas, but I also like A Beautiful Right Cheek, or A Beautiful Gut, or A Mind Only A Mother Could Love. Or, My Other Mind Is A Rembrandt.

"So, Wes, when are you going to get polemical?" -- some of you are probably asking. Well, I'm gearing myself up to it.

In the one place, we know that in real life Nash was not a poster child for anti-psychotic meds. Nash's condition improved after he stopped taking meds. Given the impact of the movie, I think this can't be stressed too much. The movie doesn't come down hard enough on this fact.

Lately I've been sharing my drug life in these pages. To correct a possible misunderstanding: I survived the worst of my Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome without drugs. Without even alcohol. The drugs I take now are only fine tuning a cure that already came about the way Nash's cure came about: long time dealing with the problem directly, with my mind, and with the help of truly beautiful minds (a therapist, friends, and some other people who had been where I was.)

In the other place, I just cleaned my apartment. I haven't felt so non-homeless in years. It took days to clean a 200 square foot room. It was a joyful necessity.

What does cleaning my place have to do with A Beautiful Mind? Good question. Answer me this: What does the CIA have to do with aliens?

I rest my case.

Thursday, March 7, 2002

Let's Talk About Consensual Sex!

Warning: I kept this column under my belt for a couple of weeks. Think about that. Under my belt.

I have made a discovery. In the six and a half years that this puppy has been alive, I have discussed sex only as follows: Male/hand, once. Male/water-fowl, maybe three or four times. Nonconsensual male/imaginary-anthropomorphic-being, once (my Muse Cindy made me emit a rhyme against my will.) Only once has there been direct mention of human couple sex. And that last was in a sextrain which described the sex in question as not really happening.

I have been the guy at the orgy holding himself in the corner, writerly speaking. Luckily I haven't minded, as I haven't had that much to say about sex, anyway. What would I know about sex? What's that? Besides, we are largely devoted to the concerns of homeless people. And since when do homeless people have couple sex?

In fact, having couple sex when you are homeless generally means doubling up in a latchable one-seater somewhere and praying you finish before some irate would-be toilet user breaks the door down.

Naturally the time pressure at these events is seriously conducive to stress-related erectile dysfunction. Therefore, again, I find myself talking mainly about sex that doesn't really happen. I'm talking about male performance anxiety. I'm talking about high pressure impotence. Whatever can be done about it? What should be?

Well, I'm ready to tell you, me and Bob Dole have something in common. We both take Viagra. (Note: Admitting this effectively uncovers the personal drug cover-up I mentioned recently.) You will all know by now, thanks to Bob, what Viagra does for us men.

But my goal here is to get down to the hard realities of life, and as I have discovered personally the hard reality is: Viagra is really for women. Let's face it. As a guy needing sexual relief, all I need is for a doctor to prescribe for me a truckload of porn and a velvet glove. Which come to think of it is comparably priced these days and lasts just as long.

But men don't just have sex with their hands, with ducks, with imaginary-anthropomorphic-beings, or even with each other. Sometimes they have sex with women. And this is a good thing, for as Aristophanes or someone with a similar looking name noted at length long ago, otherwise, something would give out.

I will go so far as to say that the entire social fabric of our social society depends on armies of straight women getting erect penises when they want them, and not next week. Next week, she's going to leave you for a Greek lancer. So much for America. So much for our American social fabric. Rock and roll as we now know it would die. Madison Avenue would crumble. We would become no different than the Taliban.

As our women left us, our pride and dignity would leave us. We would finally have to learn to play bridge to occupy our desolate souls. Eventually we would be forced to read, to learn how to pronounce French, and how to distinguish conifers.

Don't let this happen to our great society. Keep our country satisfied!

What I'm trying to say here is, to all you men out there who have ever found yourselves falling short in times of high demand, do us all a favor and get yourselves some Viagra. Especially you rich people who can afford it at ten dollars a pill. You may not thank me for it, but your partners will, and America will. Trust me, I know what I'm talking about. This stuff is truly awesome.

And, who knows? Maybe you'll help bring the price down.

Thursday, February 21, 2002

My Girlfriend's Loose

This column was going to be great. Anitra, Tex, and Cowboy, "the Seattle First Three of Six", were going to be tried by Seattle for the crime of sheltering people in out of the rain under the King County Ad Building overhang. I was going to skip the boring bits, skip all the hours that Anitra et al would spend watching lawyers jockey. Just as the trial got interesting, I would be there taking notes, and this column would have been the distillation of all the awesome trial drama.

Well, guess what. There wasn't anything BUT the boring bits. After about twelve hours of mind numbingly dull motions, not counting breaks for lunch and paper copying, the city just asked the judge to dismiss the charges, and the judge said OK.

That was it. No harangues, no "where were you on the night of." No "I would like to remind the witness she is under oath." No last minute note passed to the defense attorney by a handsome private detective. No brilliant cross examination. No map of the scene of the crime. No one screaming from the back of the courtroom, "Alright! I did it! Yes, I did it! I had to do it, don't you see? I hated her so much, with her damn poetry workshops and her computer lessons! That's why I framed her!"

It seems the defendants were charged with trespassing on county property, but the county wasn't willing to have a representative appear in court to explain why it objected to allowing a handful of people to escape the rain on public property when they weren't being a nuisance in any way. So the city, who was doing the prosecuting, realized it couldn't win.

So instead of talking about that, I'm going to reminisce about my old '69 Rambler. Long-time readers may remember her from my Opus 7, "Home was a '69 Rambler / I'd rolled it away from the road / Home was a '69 Rambler / until the state ha-ad it towed / etc."

I didn't just buy that car to live in it. We had a history together. We were a couple. A math professor and his wheels. I bought her at Rutgers NJ in 1979 for $200. Her previous owner had lost her in a drug bust. I needed her to make it between classes in that sprawling campus.

When classes ended in 1980 I had to come here to Seattle. I decided to keep the Rambler by driving us across country. That trip was to cement our relationship forever. (Get it? "Cement." Ha!)

There were "thunder strips" in Pennsylvania. Thunder strips shake your car apart if you are doing more than the speed limit. We met them in a rainstorm. I thought she was dying. I cried over her for hours on the side of the road. Then the rain subsided and I could see the strips.

The Man in the Yellow Beetle appeared in Pennsylvania. From there to Wyoming not a single hour passed that one of us didn't pass the other, except for a detour over a mountain. It was amazing. We took breaks at the same times. We must have slept at the same times. We drove at the same speeds. Uncanny.

I saw an interstate shunt that went over a mountain alongside Mt. Rushmore. As is my wont, I thought, "What the hell?" That stretch of interstate inspired this Haiku (this is the original version.)

'69 Rambler

Divided Highway Ahead

My Girlfriend's Behind

The "highway" was one lane in each direction, no shoulders, usually no railings. Divided highway signs signaled such things as trees in the middle of the road. As we reached the peak, my love nearly died of high altitude asphyxiation. It was snowing. I will never forget her gasps of pain. But she made it. We both arrived here May 17, one day before we would have been ashed on by St. Helens.

This column is dedicated to her spirit -- my '69 Rambler, b 1969, d 1984.

Thursday, February 7, 2002

Abate My Ass; No, Really

Today's new word is carminative. Try to figure out what it means from the context!

One loose end is tied. A while back I ranted righteously and justifiably about the incessant cowboy music at 3rd and Pine, courtesy of that intersection's McDonalds. I am happy to note that said McDonalds is now gone, so we may all be spared the unwelcome musical invasion in our lives when we walk the sidewalks there, at least until a new obnoxious tenant moves into that space. I am unhappy to note that this outcome has been achieved by normal business development, when it should have come about by this city's always unfairly applied Noise Abatement Ordinance.

Here's a rule of thumb for you guys in Tom Carr's office: if a business PURPOSELY pipes music OUTSIDE of it's own establishment, that is an INTENTIONAL disturbance of the peace. That is grounds to pursue legal remedy. The public doesn't want to be unwillingly subjected to Hank Williams, no matter how good his stuff is. We want to be willingly subjected to it, in the privacy of our own homes. So abate that.

One loose end unravels. As of this writing, Street Outreach Services (SOS), in the same neighborhood, has been evicted. SOS is part of the solution. Their loss can only make the Pike/Pine area worse. As matters become worse, they will likely lead to some business down there subjecting passers-by to bubble gum music. The city will do nothing. I will have to be committed.

For those of you too young to remember bubble gum music, imagine Britney Spears with no midriff showing, hair in pigtails, singing in such a way that you are really genuinely convinced that she's a virgin after all.

Speaking of drugs, I am now one of the biggest drug users in the country. In the world. I am taking drugs for everything. The following is in the direction of a full disclosure. The cover-up will consist of the omissions.

To begin with, there's the Beano. Without the Beano, I would be a social outcast. Until the discovery of this miracle drug I had to rely on that old-fashioned carminative, cumin, or cummin, as it is sometimes spelled. A man can only take so much cummin.

My favorite drug is something called Olanzapine. Sometimes people say to me, "Wes, why are you such an atypical non-psychotic?" I'm not your everyday non-psychotic because I take an atypical anti-psychotic, Olanzapine. It makes all of the rest of you bearable so that I don't mind spending the rest of my life with you and even feel like communicating off and on. Otherwise I would go back to my corner and talk to my extensive collection of plastic figurines and damaged wind-up toys. I love my damaged wind-up toys.

Another fun drug is Wellbutrin, which as the name suggests makes you one happy butrin. I'm not actually taking any Wellbutrin right now because I'm going through a little phase in which it has been decided that I'm happy enough for now, thank you very much. Whee!

Then there are all those meds that counter the old-paunchy-guy syndrome. It is simply unbelievable how much of a pharmacy it takes to lower an old guy's cholesterol and drop his blood pressure. I'm personally taking a statin, a diuretic, and a beta-blocker everyday. I'm told they are working.

Before I forget: a carminative is an anti-flatulent. Did you get it right?

So, to sum up, not counting the carminative and the cover-up, that's five high-powered meds I'm taking every day, all legal and all socially sanctioned. And I'm just one crazy old fart out of millions.

Do yourself and America a favor. Proudly invest in our great pharmaceutical corporations. Today, a brave new country, tomorrow, the world.