Monday, April 30, 2007


The rich associate poverty with a particular form of pain called hunger...I assert that poor people are not necessarily hungry. That is why in this ugly little list of poverty-phenomena I omit hunger for the more general if awkward term pain.

—page 139, Poor People by William T. Vollmann

The child and I went and helped out this evening at our local "soup kitchen." The group from my church that served provided tacos with all of the fixin's; fresh fruit in the form of bananas, apples, and oranges; poppyseed muffins; milk; and juice. We served about fifty of the area's homeless and/or hungry.

The reason we did this was two-fold. First, I want to expose the child to all kinds of people and all kinds of experiences. Second, I felt compelled to help. All too often my vision is directed inward. And, I used to go down and help with this meal program in the past and really enjoyed being around the cast of characters that comes to eat.

When we arrived, the woman in charge of the program told me that the child could not help because she was too young. That was not going to stop us, however. I had informed the child that she would be able to help and I made sure that it did indeed happen. I was assigned to the end of the line pouring milk and juice. I then placed the child in charge of handing me cups to fill. The child also insisted on holding the bottoms of the gallon containers as I poured. The child was content and happy with her simple tasks.

Once the woman in charge saw that the child was not "in the way" or handling food, she realized that there were things that she could do. So, next thing I know, the child and I are walking amongst the tables where people are eating, handing out malt chocolate Easter eggs. The child would say, "Would you like some candy?" Her more-than-usual shyness and toddler smile broke the ice with most of the people, and even if they declined the candy they shook her hand or said "No, thank you," to which the child replied, "Yourwelcome," as though it were one word.

When everyone who came to eat was having second helpings, our crew began to eat. They all stood behind the serving tables with their tacos. The child and I decided to go sit with some of the people we had served, partly in order that the child could sit in a chair, and partly for me to step out of my introverted comfort-zone.

We sat across from self-proclaimed "Crazy" Bob. We awkwardly carried on small talk about the day, the weather, and the child, until he made brief mention of his work. I asked him what he did for a living. He works as a receiver in a warehouse. Once he started talking about his job, his face began to glow with the obvious pride he takes in his work. I was able to share my past work experience as a receiving manager, and "Crazy" Bob and I talked for ten or fifteen minutes about work and life while we ate. After we were both done—and we were the last two eating, me due to general slowness in eating, he because he was on his third helping because he "needed the calories for his work, since this would probably be his only meal until dinner tomorrow"—we shook hands, said goodbye to one another, and went our separate ways.

His hands, like most of those that the child and I gave milk and juice and candy to, were colored with dirt and weathered with work and exposure to the elements. They were hands that tell a story. Hands that tell a story of pain, but also of pride. Hands that tell a story of drug or alcohol abuse, but also of a willingness to keep going forward. Hands that would reach out and shake the hands of a stranger, even if it was me.

Friday, April 27, 2007


To the extent that the poor constitute a supply of something—cheap labor, easy availability for some project (war or prostitution, for instance), convenient obedience—they will be tolerated, even "wanted." To the extent that they constitute a demand for common resources, they will be unwanted.
—page 127, Poor People by William T. Vollmann

I was asked to model clothes for a fashion show and in a moment of weakness, and perhaps vanity, agreed. I hope never to do such again.

There was such a disconnect for me between the experience of modeling clothes that I could not afford to wear and all of the problems that I see in the world around me—famine, genocide, warfare, the AIDS crisis, poverty, hunger, homelessness. As I was called forward to model an outfit that consisted of $150 pants, a $110 "dress" shirt, and a $76 T-shirt, I kept thinking about how this was definitely not who I am. I didn't like the pretense or the prancing or the objectification that I was receiving from the women of the audience. After modeling two additional outfits that consisted of even more expensive articles of clothing, and having women feel the fabric of the pants I was wearing—which was encouraged by the store that provided the clothes because when ladies feel the fabric it could mean sales—I was ready to go home.

It didn't help that I was firmly in the middle of reading William T. Vollmann's Poor People at the time. In chapter twenty-one of his book, "I Know I Am Rich," I was once again reminded that I, like Vollmann, "am a petty-bourgeois property owner." Throughout the book, I read about people who have been dispossessed of property, belongings, employment, dignity, or security due to circumstances that are oftentimes beyond their control. It made me thankful for what I do have and who I am. It saddened me for those whose lives consist of a struggle for mere survival.

It further saddens me that we are a nation of Wal-marts and warfare, of Hummers and cheap gasoline. And, I know that I am as culpable as my neighbors. I may not shop at Wal-mart or drive an SUV, but I haven't participated in an anti-war protest or started driving less. My silence speaks for itself.

Vollmann interviews people that are poor throughout the globe. He bluntly asks them, "Why are you poor?" If he speaks with them for a length of time, then he asks them related questions, such as, "Why are some people rich and others poor?" Their answers are mingled with Vollmann's questioning of his own role as a "rich man" relative to those he speaks with. He even gives us a glimpse of their lives through their eyes, trying not to judge them from our standards of "normal."

This is not one of Vollmann's great books—it is a really good book from him—but it is a great book. It is a nice companion piece to both his collection of interrelated short stories, The Atlas, and his magnum opus seven-volume reflection on violence, Rising Up and Rising Down. It is a book that ties together many of the themes brought forth in all of his works, but especially these two. It is a bridge between his fiction and non-fiction.

It definitely made me once again question my own stasis. I only wish that it were longer and that he had more time to develop some of the themes he touches upon. But, perhaps it is meant to be a "jumping-off point" that sends one forth into the world with renewed eyes and a repentant heart—a teaching tool now meant to be put into practice.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


These words are for those who died
These words are for those left behind
These words are for you Poland
And these ones for my homeland...

Let stones crack
Let the earth quake
Let the tempest roar...

Let freedom rise!

—from "Slovania" by Laibach, from the album Volk

The perfect title for the perfect album: Volk. In German it means "people." In Slovenian it means "wolf." These two languages, in addition to English, are the primary languages that Laibach sing in. Hence, the ambiguity of the term is pertinent, especially considering that the fourteen tracks on the album are national anthems that were rewritten and arranged by Laibach and their fellow Slovenian artists Silence. They point out not only the patriotic and nationalistic tendencies of these anthems, but the darkness and violence contained within.

And, true to form, Laibach subvert their subjects through juxtaposition, shift of context, and challenge of power, all the while remaining faithful to other aspects of the song that cannot be denied once stripped of facade. Militarism is exposed. Unity, justice, freedom, equality, liberty, and other such ideals and concepts are held up by the lyrics and left to succeed or fail against the reality of the light of truth and actuality that shines upon them from the practices of the nations that espouse them. Violence seethes below. As the song "Zhongua" states: "March on. March on and on and on and on."


On "America," an opening burst of analogue synthesizer "chainsaw"—courtesy of Luka Jamnik, and reminiscent of Nitzer Ebb's opening salvo on "Getting Closer" from Showtime—quickly cedes to the distant wailings of the sirens of emergency vehicles, and summons forth memories of 9/11 in the midst of the lockdown of martial law ironically named The Patriot Act. Then come lyrics lifted from the "Star Spangled Banner" that expose the hypocrisy of the actions of the United States both domestically and internationally. "You: the people of the United States, did you form the perfect union, establish justice, ensure tranquility, secure the blessings of liberty to yourselves in posterity?" Can we hear the criticism? Can we listen with open minds to the ways that we have betrayed ourselves and our allies? Next comes the "theological" language that the religious right has adopted from the worst of fundamental Christianity, as heard in a sample of a televangelist preacher. This language is mixed with the secular "religious" language of civil government, much the same way that the current Bush administration has done. The challenge to the structure of our national belief system is couched in a mixture of hymnody, classical music, and "lazy" techno that works rather well.

If we consider ourselves leaders on the international stage then we should be big enough to accept the challenge, listen to its criticisms, examine our flaws and foibles, and change. I am not going to hold out any hope, though. Laibach has been challenging the Western powers-that-be for a couple of decades and nothing has changed for the better. Their NATO album challenged said military alliance while it allowed Yugoslavia to disintegrate into chaos. Their Kapital album challenged the Western consumer cultures that allow for exploitation of the people and environment of all countries in the pursuit of power, control, and consumption of resources; the machine continues to churn.


The challenge is presented to all of the current nation-state powers-that-be, not only the United States. On "Francia," the French are challenged for their xenophobia, especially concerning their fear of their Islamic immigrants. On "Yisra'el," Israel is challeged for its mistreatment and subjugation of the Palestinian people. On "Anglia," Great Britain is challenged for its arrogance in dealings with other countries. On "Nippon," the nationalism of Japan is challenged. On "Zhongua," the militarism of China is challenged.

Laibach allows the words of the national anthems to betray themselves at times, while revisiting current events to expose the misdirections of these nations at other times.


I cannot get these songs out of my head. Even when I am lying in bed at night I can hear the melodies of "Germania" and "Slovenia." I can hear the ringing of the bells on herds of cattle or sheep. I can hear the languid seduction and looping rhythms of trip-hop, the tempered growls of vocalist Milan Fras, the beautiful voice of guest vocalist Boris Benko, snippets of cello. I can hear guitars and synthesizers in "battle" with drums. I can hear interstellar signals from the Black Star. I can hear the primary English lyrics pressing out from the German, Italian, Spanish, Hebrew, Turkish, Chinese, Latin, and Slovenian lyrics. I can hear Babel before it is torn down by the finger of God.

These songs have invaded my dreams.


The people of the nations have spoken in blood and bullets to establish their strongholds upon their lands. The wolves are shepherding the sheep. Now it is time for both wolves and sheep to listen:

This crimson flag should never fade...
I know it will always shine.

Freedom is my people's right.
—from "Turkiye" by Laibach, from the album Volk


In honor of their own place in history, as part of Neue Slowenische Kunst (New Slovenian Art), and as a catalyst for the "revolution" of the Slovenian people to move toward secession from Yugoslavia proper, Laibach include the NSK "national" anthem as well. It sounds grainy. It ends with a needle stuck in a groove, which is then "zipped" over the last bit of vinyl on the "LP" on which it is heard. The LPs that were the primary mode of subversive music in the early days of Laibach and the early days of Slovenian secessionism—albums such as Laibach, Rekapitulation, and Nova Akropola—are simultaneously paid homage and eulogized.

If only the compact disks of Laibach—albums such as WAT and Volk—can now do as much "damage" and as much "good" as their long-players once did.

The people can dream...

Monday, April 23, 2007


The child and I found ourselves reading this evening of International Book Day—the child various stories from The 20th Century Children's Book Treasury, and myself essays on Sarajevo under siege by Juan Goytisolo as collected in his book Landscapes of War. The child leaned toward me, glanced at my book, and queried: "No pictures in you [sic] book Daddy?" I replied that there were not. This was met with a sigh of resignation: "Oh..." Then I informed the child that one day her books would also be absent pictures, which brought forth another sigh.

We returned to reading next to one another—one book filled with pictures and words, one book filled with words and images.

Saturday, April 21, 2007


Troy's Work Table became an official collector of art with the acquisition of its first piece: Cracker by Herbert Hoover.

This delightful hand-cast pewter Saltine cracker was obtained from the Art-O-Mat machine located at BKB & Company in Tacoma.

It truly is a joy to behold. Cracker has the same dimensions and volume of a Saltine. The only things that give it away are its (heavy) weight and (silver) color. Nonetheless, a wonderful simulation of an actual cracker.

The Cracker Tracker ID# for our particular Cracker is 1993.


Step one: Marvel at Art-O-Mat vending machine.

Step two: Purchase $5.00 token for Art-O-Mat.

Step three: Peruse choices of art for collection.

Step four: Ready token.

Step five: Insert token into Art-O-Mat.

Step six: Pull lever, thereby dispensing art.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


We are time
We are time
We are time
We are time

We are the thieves of the lost horizons
We are the mirror of the deadly curse

—from "WAT" by Laibach, as found on the album WAT

The wife, the child, and I found ourselves at Quantizing Effects: The Liminal Art of Jim Campbell in a return visit. I was better able to concentrate on some of the pieces that I was only able to briefly glance at last time, due to the energy and lack of focus of the child. Yet, the very pieces that caught my attention this time are directly related to the movement of the child and her relations to environment as well as me. What I thought was masked was lived out in her being and moving and seeing.


Last Day in the Beginning of March is a darkened "room" filled with twenty-five different lights. Each light is "connected to an electronic circuit containing a fictionalized, digital 'memory' of a specific event" in the last day of the life of the artist's brother. Titles under each light—The Voices, Heart Beating, Windshield Wipers, Car (radio), Vomiting, 31 Matches, A Pack and a Half of Cigarettes—alert the viewer to the rhythms of the flickers of the lights. The effect is one of life deconstructed into component parts, separate experiences, individual lights. The room reconstitutes the parts into a sum, a whole. I just wandered around—reading a title and trying to see in the half-dark which light its cable was attached to—thinking about the title, its words, their meanings, their associations with the rhythm or flicker of the light. I was trying to reconstruct a life with clues difficult to decipher.


Photo of My Mother is a small glass frame with a picture of the artist's mother that fades in and out of "focus," the picture being pushed close to the glass and then pulled back. A glance down at the control box that it is wired to reveals a small metal plaque that reads: "My Breath / January 1996 1 hour".

Portrait of My Father is a companion piece that is another small glass frame with a picture of the artist's father that fades in and out quicker and in spurts of two. Upon its control box is a metal plate that reads: "My Heartbeat / 12 am to 8 am, January 12th, 1995".

Time becomes personal, familial. Movement through space connects generations as much as DNA, upbringing, events.

We are time.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Ebulum Elderberry Black Ale, a Traditional Ale by Heather Ales

12 ounce bottle. This ale is based on recipes used by the Celts. It pours black with a tan head that quickly dissipates. The aroma is of berries of some sort and a minor hint of chocolate.

I find the palate weak and watery. The primary flavors are roasted malt and smokiness. It is similar to a porter, but what skews it may be the faintest hint of berries. That faint berry flavor has a mediciny edge to it, tending toward cough syrup.

This traditional ale is okay but somewhat underwhelming.

Friday, April 13, 2007


"The Cities of the Red Night were six in number: Tamaghis, Ba'dan, Yass-Waddah, Waghdas, Naufana, and Ghadis. These cities were located in an area roughly corresponding to the Gobi Desert, a hundred thousand years ago. At that time the desert was dotted with large oases and traversed be a river which emptied into the Caspian Sea."
—page 153, Cities of the Red Night by William S. Burroughs

"Afterwards we lie down side by side. He is talking in his clear grave young voice. I have rarely seen him smile and there is something very sad and remote about him like a faint sign or signal from a distant star."
—page 127, Cities of the Red Night by William S. Burroughs

Time collapses in on itself, such that all times are present. The Cities of the Red Night exist a hundred thousand years ago, yet the armies that battle there consist of seventeenth-century pirates, modern police and military forces, creatures from the future, gods of the golden age.

Space collapses in on itself, such that all places are present. Port Roger, Panama; lower Manhattan; Lima, Peru; and Yass-Waddah and the other Cities are all major settings for the plot, although they fluctuate. There is no constancy.

Culture collapses in on itself, such that all becomes a true melting pot. The Mayan Gods run amok in the "Gobi Desert" region of the Cities. Eighteenth-century nobility melt into twentieth-century corporate players, although they are obviously of extraterrestrial origin, rumored to be Venusian.

Individual characters collapse in on themselves, merging into one another, confusing identities. Clem Snide, private investigator (or "private asshole" as he insists by means of introduction), becomes Audrey. Some of the young men that Snide/Audrey is seeking are having their heads severed and transplanted onto other bodies. Memories move with the heads—sometimes.

Characters from other novels and stories, past and future, are also present: Dr. Benway, Kiki, Paco, Joselito, Enrique, Captain Mission, Clem Snide, O'Brien, along with a myriad of others.


Cities of the Red Night was published in 1981. AIDS was first recognized in mid-1981. This is fascinating since one of the sub-plots of the narrative is of a disease that becomes epidemic, if not pandemic. It is transmitted sexually, leaving its victims with large red welts or sores. The disease is viral: "I knew why Peter hadn't responded to antibiotics. He didn't have scarlet fever. He had a virus infection." (page 54) It is also ultimately fatal.

In true Burroughs-paranoia fashion, the disease probably originates in a laboratory and mutates and frees itself from any attempts to control it, which was one of Burroughs's theories about AIDS in the 1990s.


The novel is somewhat difficult to describe to those who have never read the work of Burroughs. The main theme concerns the attempt to overthrow anything trying to control the individual, whether societal, governmental, religious, class-based, or linguistic. This libertarian thread is what ties all of Burroughs's work together, including his earlier drug memoirs. Cities of the Red Night is also somewhat difficult to read, although more accessible than some of Burroughs's earlier work, such as Naked Lunch. If you are willing to commit the time to reading, digesting, and conversing with this work then it is worth the struggle.


"The Museum of Lost Species is not exactly a museum, since all of the species are alive in dioramas of their natural habitats. Admission is free to anyone who can enter. The coinage here is the ability to endure the pain and sadness of observing extinction and by so doing to reanimate the species by observing it."
—page 51, Ghost of Chance by William S. Burroughs

"Audrey felt the floor shift under his feet and he was standing at the epicenter of a vast web. In that moment, he knew its purpose, knew the reason for suffering, fear, sex, and death. It was all intended to keep human slaves imprisoned in physical bodies while a monstrous matador waved his cloth in the sky, sword ready for the kill."
—page 309, Cities of the Red Night by William S. Burroughs

Last night, the wife and I watched Blood Diamond. I was very disappointed. It was an action film loosely wrapped in current events and politics of Africa. The characters of Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hansou) were quite unbelievable, especially that of Archer. This was a Stallone or Schwarzenegger movie dishonestly veiled behind a weak attempt to show how we really should care about how the diamond industry is really hurting individuals and families in Sierra Leone and Liberia. The problem was that the movie was not about community and caring, but about individual heroics, individual greed, and individual motivations. In addition to the narcissism of all of the protagonists, there were so many bullets fired near Archer and Vandy that they should have been killed scores of times.


I stumbled upon William S. Burroughs's Ghost of Chance by accident. It was sitting on a bargain table in Elliott Bay Book Company so I bought it on a whim. I am very pleased that I did. It is a very slim novel, rather more novella or short story due to its length. Like Blood Diamond, it combines individual heroics with the problems of the modern world, in this case how the rape of the global environment, capitalism and colonialism run amok, and the need of nation-states/corporations to establish and maintain control are leading us down a path of our own destruction. In other words, it presented a more balanced, more believable world than that of Blood Diamond—addressing many of the same issues—even though it is a fantasy that bounces around through various times and "realities" as most of Burroughs's work, and less rooted in a world that "looks" like ours, such as that of Blood Diamond. Read it and weep. Burroughs doesn't hold out much hope for us as we open Pandora's box upon Pandora's box.


Ghost of Chance led me to another novel by Burroughs that I had not yet read. A review of Ghost of Chance dismissed it due to its subject matter and brevity, stating that it could easily have been a prologue to Cities of the Red Night. I disagree.

Although there are some minor similarities between the two novels, they each stand alone. Cities of the Red Night and Ghost of Chance both contain elements present in many of Burroughs's short stories and novels—drug use, sex, homosexuality, rebellions, backroom dealings, pirates, strange diseases, morphing or altered bodies, "aliens," and the police or military. For me, even though Ghost of Chance is a strong indictment of our culture and way of life, Cities of the Red Night is even moreso.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Some time to relax at Ocean Shores, after all of the movement of Holy Week.

Friday, April 06, 2007


"Silver spots boil in front of my eyes. I am standing in the empty ruined courtyard hundreds of years from now, a sad ghostly visitant in a dead city, smell of nothing and nobody there."
—from Cities of the Red Night by William S. Burroughs

I am sure that William S. Burroughs would be horrified that I used one of his passages to mark Good Friday. I am sure that there are those in the church that would agree.

But, like it or not, this is a day of death. This is a day of marking a murder. This is a day of crucifixion. Let us stay here for the moment. Let us not rush to Easter and resurrection. If we do then the whole movement of the Three Days—Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil—is ruined, soiled.

This is a day of the "smell of nothing and nobody there." Stop and listen. Let the silence swallow you and spit you upon the shore.


At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharoah who sat on the throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock...There was not a house without someone dead.
—Exodus 12:29-30

My household would be eliminated. The wife. The child. Myself. All firstborn. There would be no one to weep and gnash their teeth at the deaths of the others. We would cease to exist. If that doesn't stop one to pause and ponder the Fear of the Lord, then I don't know what will.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


We are all gathered to mourn her death, although I keep hearing whisperings of the word "celebrate." She was forty-three.

I wish there was more substance to this memorial. The service is fleeting, ephemeral, as was her life.

Most of the time is divided between images of her projected on a screen with a classic rock song that is played twice, and reminiscences of family and friends. The stories focus less on her and more on each individual speaker. She is simply a catalyst for voices.

Her brother is publicly sobbing, grieving, but admits shame because he "knows this is supposed to be a celebration." I want to shout out to him that this is not a time to celebrate, but to mourn. I want to tell him that it is okay to cry. I want to scream at the forced happiness of all of the others. I am silent.

The chaplain bookends the images and stories with readings from the Psalms—Psalm 121 at the beginning and Psalm 23 at the end. She was not religious. This seems to be perfunctory. There is no depth to it. There is no hope in it. It "plays" as the right thing to do. It is false.

Her life was difficult. It was filled with margins: drugs, alcohol, chronic disease, lesbianism, loneliness. Her last months were challenges to her health. She was drinking again, which was worsening her illness, compromising her existence. This is truth, but nobody will speak it.

She succumbed in slumber, alone.

My heart is heavy. I know there is hope, but all I feel in this moment is a tenderness of limbs, a numbness of spirit.


Dogfish Head Burton Baton, an Imperial/Double India Pale Ale by Dogfish Head Brewery

12 ounce bottle. This Imperial/Double IPA pours a brilliant, translucent copper-orange. The head is off-white and the carbonation is good tending toward mild.

In the nose I catch primarily citrus with whiffs of grass and spice. There is even a hint of wine, but not overly so.

The flavor is this ale's strongest asset. It is rich and complex. Initially, grapefruit is the core, which mellows into more of an orange flavor and then slowly trails off. This core flavor is surrounded by vanilla and a woody, cognac flavor.

This is very good. It is also very different from what I normally expect in an IPA, although a wonderful variation. It is less bitter than many, but the sweetness that subdues some of the bitterness works here.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Dogfish Head Raison D'Être, a Belgian Ale by Dogfish Head Brewery

12 ounce bottle. Raison D'Être pours reddish-orange with an ivory head. The nose is yeasty and fruity. The flavor is somewhat nutty, similar to a brown ale, but sweeter and subtler. It is complemented by a burnt caramel. There may also be a hint of raisins, perhaps, but I could be "tasting" them due to the fact that I know they are used in the brewing process; their flavor may be negligible.

This is a good, better-than-average, ale, but nothing spectacular. "A sense of purpose"—really?

Monday, April 02, 2007


Some behind-the-scenes documentary work by the child. Clockwise from upper left: (1) Troy's Work Table taking pictures for on THE TAPHANDLE; (2) Dogfish Head Burton Baton; (3) Maritime Pacific Flagship Red Ale; and (4) Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour Red Ale.


Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour Red Ale, a Flemish Sour Ale, by Brouwerije van Steenberge

11.2 ounce bottle. Pucker up, because this ale has some strong tartness on the initial phase of each sip or drink.

This ale poured a nice reddish-brown into a snifter. The head was cream-colored and frothy, leaving behind tiny, intricate patterns of lacing. A lot of carbonation hugged the bottom of the bowl of the glass, giving the effect of an echo of the head.

The aroma was almost that of a marinara sauce or a wine reduction sauce—sour and tangy—with a hint of caramelized sugar. The taste is hard for me to place, although strong apple cider, maraschino cherries (although not as cloying), and lemon (although with a reduced citrus flavor) all come to mind. It was light and airy, with great carbonation, and a ticklish mouthfeel. The flavor moves from intense sour to a sweet finish rather quickly, although the transition is far from disjointed. Pleasurable.

I need to find a food to pair this with. I had it with spaghetti, which wasn't the best match. I also had it with some chocolate cake. That was better, but still not quite "on mark."