Monday, September 26, 2005

Operation CeaseFire

Regular readers of this blog already know that I am a screaming liberal who will reject partisanship only when it is convenient. Also I have a real thing for portraits and handmade signage...hence, the following gallery of photos and observations drawn from this weekend's massive anti-war rally called Operation CeaseFire here in Washington, DC.

If you click here you can see a complete photo set...

We got a late start Saturday morning, driving me right up the wall. As I age, I become more and more like my father and grandmother in that when i want to get going somewhere, I become incorrigibly cranky. We hiked down 16th street, stopping at each bus stop hoping for a ride--nothing came for the longest time. Finally a bus did stop for us, and as it ever packed. Third-world packed. All we needed were a few chickens on the thing, and we could have been in Indonesia no worries. I was asking the driver what the best stop was to get off for the protest when an older woman my mothers' age tapped my shoulder, saying "Baby, every last person on this bus is going the same place. Just follow the crowd..."

Once we got off I hustled past the White House and through the crowd, digging on the way it thickened as we approached the ellipse.

I passed this guy on the way:

This sign, although strongly worded, has tremendous non-partisan appeal. Either side could claim that dude as one of their own.

I passed these girls on the way into the crowd. Something about them was so sweet and so friendly, but man, this photo kind of gives me the creeps:

The crowd was really thick around here, and there were peple with serious camera equipment everywhere. If there's one thing I've learned as a pseudo-gonzo/citizen journalist, it's that you really want to elbow your way into a cluster of people with expensive camera equipment. Just play like you belong -- because you do -- and everything will be fine. This is what I saw at the center of the camera crowd:


These people were at the front line of the protest march, keeping order as a human chain holding back overexcited protesters. I knew something was up, and the next thing I knew, I was less than ten feet from Cindy Sheehan herself:

The energy up there was incredible. It was so warm and electric, and I could feel chilly waves cresting at my scalp and running all the way down my spines, crashing where my feet met the pavement. While me and the crew from CNN, Reuters, Gettty, the Post, etc, were falling over ourselves to get shots like the one you saw above, photographers were calling out "Thank you, Cindy," "Great work Miss Sheehan," and "We're with you all the way." She smiled so big and her eyes got wet as she waved, blew kisses and thanked everyone who spoke to her. I'm getting worked up just thinking about it now, 36 hours after the fact.

All of a sudden the neon orange human dam busted wide open and let the crowd go.

I really get off on going upstream for some reason. I fantasize daily about driving against one-way traffic and I love it when I can do it on my bike...walking against the flow of this march and just feeling the vibes from every peaceful concerned citizen was the sort of thing that I'll be telling my grandkids about. I was one fish moving against a school, moving in between marchers, sign wavers and happy, shouting people.

Here's some of the better signs I saw:





I have a real problem with this sign, though, and the sentiment behind it:


See, my grandparents are die-hard Republicans. My grandma listens to Rush Limbaugh all day long and think he's the news. My dad has a more critical mind, but he's tight with the right too. I come from an incredibly loving, supportive family, and I really hope God doesn't hate them. As an inveterate shit-talker, I certainly understand the desire to put up a provocative, stinging sign like that guy's, but I think that after a point that sort of discourse speaks badly for our team. The goal, as far as I am concerned, is not to be the sort of caricature that the opposing viewpoint can use as an example. Stuff like that sign is sort of like volunteering to climb into the enemy's cannon to be shot at one's own castle.

Here's exhibit B:


THese clowns come out to every protest with the express purpose of antagonizing participants. This hurts both sides. This guy had some pretty sweet quotes that professional writers could not have thought up, though...his dialogue was far too corny for TV, but the fact that he was saying it in real life was HILARIOUS. Here's a direct quote:

"You hippies are weird. You hippies always get into that weird stuff, like homosexuality and your marijuana. What you need to do is stop being weird just to be weird and get right with God!"

Hey, you know what? I can't stand hippies either! My hair is actually shorter than that guy's and I like shooting off guns! I actually do believe in God, too! But I'll tell you what: God gets bummed out on people like that. The only thing that bums God out more than weak (and by weak, I mean almost all) Christian rock bands are religious wackos that make God look like an asshole. I think that the Commandments should be rewritten (and come on, don't tell me that those tablets are real) to say "Thou shalt not make God look like an asshole."

The problem with most people that interpret the Bible as stone-cold literal fact is that they have very little ability to understand subtlety, nuance, or metaphor. So in their little canine brains, behaving like the guy in the photo above and his homeboy throwing out the double-Heil-Hitlers actually is a great ADVERTISEMENT for God. In their little reptile minds it makes perfect sense.

Even more disappointing, however, were the sppoed peaceful liberals who broke off from the crowd just to shout at these losers. They surrounded the religious nutjobs and screamed their point of view at the top of their lungs, as if sheer volume was going to make the nutjobs change their minds. Nobody looks good when they're red in the face and screaming, and it really kinda hurt the team to see fellow protestors engage in behavior that tickled the bad guys. Religious nuts and Protest Warriors are only happy when someone hates them, and the best way to pee in their Kool-Aid is to ignore them.

I had a gutful and climbed a low parapet to watch the crowd. It was so amazing. This march wasn't just hippies and excitable college kids. It was black people, white people, old ladies, former and current military, dads, grandpas, handicapped people--it was EVERYBODY. I feel really thrilled to be able to say that I was right there and ground zero for this thing. Apart from the odd deranged person, who is always in any crowd, this bunch was warm and friendly.

I'd have to say that it was one of the biggest thrills of my life to be a fish in this river made out of America winding through the most powerful city in the world. I can't stand the current administration, but I feel really lucky to live somewhere where all citizens can come togethe and tell the reigning party to fuck off. We stood together, young and old, right in front of the snipers on the White House and chanted for peace and I thought to myself "You know, this country may be going down the tubes, but this is pretty cool. We may not be able to stop this war today, but we're growing in numbers, and we can't be ignored anymore."

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Mantis Climbing My Shoulder and Eventually Onto My Face

Last week a large, brownish preying mantis climbed right up my arm, onto my shoulder and over my face. She was big, fat from constant insect hunting and maybe even the odd hummingbird...

Here are some grainy, indistinct photos taken in low light on a camera-phone:



Mantids are amazing hunters but not very smart. They pretty much attack anything that moves like prey...if I could wiggle my ears, they may well have gotten pierced for me.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Movies And Television Led Me Astray Once Again

I could hear them through my window, louder and louder until I had to look. Peeking through the blinds, I saw two men in the road right in front of my ground-floor apartment, shouting profanities at each other. One man was a cabdriver, the other one clearly intoxicated, with a thick English accent.

The way someone treats a service worker is the clearest measure of their character. Anybody that snaps at a waiter, barks at a bartender, or shouts abuse at a cabdriver is on the short but all-too long list of clear assholes in my book.

The shouting escalated, and I thought I heard the English guy shove the cabbie. I stood there behind my open, ground-floor window with the blinds shut, listening hard for any signs of violence. I live in a decent neighborhood, but this is DC. Life is cheap here, and I'm not having anybody get shot if I can help it.

I called 911 and asked that the cops just drive by and break this up before it escalated too badly. "Just have them drive up with their lights flashing," I said, "and that should clear it off."

It always takes the cops too long to show. The shouting escalated further, and there was no other place to go but up. The English guy was louder and louder and the cabbie wasn't backing down.

You always hear about these murders that take place in the city, totally preventable in front of an apartment building. The neighbors don't want to get involved and then somebody's got to come peel a body up off the sidewalk. That's not happening in my neighborhood. No way.

I broke my silence by shouting out from behind the blinds, "hey SHUT UP! The cops are on the way!"

"You shut up, you cunt," the Englishman replied. "I'll shut up, but it's not going to stop the cops from coming! Just please go home," I replied, my voice rising in fear.

They stopped. I heard the cab door shut and the cab roared away, its engine grumbling its owner's indignance.

Then I heard footsteps, and a voice not six inches from my head, just the other side of my blinds said "Oh, by the I know where you live, bitch."

Bumps leapt up on my arm and made all my body hair stand out like toilet brush bristles. "Is that a threat?" I asked. "No, not really," the man replied, and walked away.

Two hours later I was still wide awake in bed. I haven't been able to stop thinking about the incident since.

Then something else happened. I was at my neighbor's open house, chatting with the other residents on my floor about politics, New Orleans, babies and god knows what or why when the topic came around to strange behavior in the neighborhood. I started telling the story of the Englishman and the of the neighbors chimed in to say that she had heard that fight, and thought it was really scary.

Right before I mentioned that I was so scared I called the cops, another woman broke in. With a dismissive laugh and a roll of the eyes she said, "Oh, that was probably my husband. He's always getting into fights with cab drivers."

I could be wrong here, but you have to wonder: if a man will abuse a cab driving stranger, how does he treat his wife after a tough day?

"Wait a second," I said. "Does your husband have an English accent, by any chance?"

"He does," she replied.

Then the world went splitscreen. One second I saw my finger pointing, hovering in the air in front of my face like a weapon in Doom. It cut to a high crane shot of the open house, the camera aimed straight down at me pointing at this woman and raising my voice slightly, but with an uncontrollable edge. I was barely in control of my faculties, little more than the eye behind the camera at this point.

All of a sudden, in front of about ten strangers, I said "you tell that motherfucker the next time he sticks his head through my window to threaten me, I'm coming out there and taking him up on it."

I have absolutely no intention of doing that. What a stupid, empty, pseudo-John Wayne thing to say. Movies and television make us think that if you get off a good enough line, the scene will cut and we never have to live with the awkward consequences that come from saying any old fucked-up thing we can think of.

She sat there silently for a second while everybody in the room stared at me. Then she jumped up and said "I'm going to go...goodnight," and split fast.

So I ask you this, readers: If you have one man that abuses cabdrivers and threatens strangers through their windows, and another that makes a great big ugly scene in front of the first man's his absence, no less, and holds her responsible for his actions...who's the bigger asshole?

Keeps the Party Going

Me and my friend Danielle were rolling down 18th street in Adams-Morgan on Sunday, feeling a bit average and definitely undercaffeinated. We may or may not have had a big night the night before, but the sun was definitely too bright and we agreed that everybody just needed to shut up already.

Then I saw this chipper little dude in the bushes, and my whole mood turned around:


I mean, if he can look that rough and still keep the party going with a smile, there's hope for all of us...

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Now That I Can See the Light

It's been a tough summer. My career as a banking researcher came to a close, and not as gracefully as I would have liked. For about three months there, I felt like I was stepping into crosshairs every time I clocked in, trying my absolute hardest at something I knew I was bad at and was being managed to fail, to boot. I'll spare you all the details, but suffice it to say that this cartoon from the New Yorker isn't even funny. It's just true:


I felt so free and oddly calm, as though months of mismanagement and metaphorical cornholing had elevated me to fakir status. I could float above the grey carpeted cubicle hell I was in and feel the wind hit my skin for the first time in a year.

All told, I was unemployed for about a month, averaging about four interviews a week.

I managed to interview at some really choice temp agencies, including one where the interviewer interrupted the session at least four times. The first time, she stopped the process to go get a trainee to sit in...hey, fine by me, as I am all about people getting adequate training. Then the phone began ringing off the hook, and the interviewer and trainee took turns TAKING THE FUCKING CALLS while the unoccupied person continued to interview me. The whole thing was such a Chinese fire drill, and when I had the chance to ask a questions of my own, it was all I could do not to say what I always say when I am appalled and indignant: "What kind of show are you running here!?"

I interviewed at a governement agency that screamed wrong from the second I signed in. Look at this photo of the hallway leading to the office:

Bureaucratic Hallway

Tell me that just walking down that hall wouldn't make you want to suck an exhaust pipe...the will to live is strong, but we all have our limits. The office at the end of that hall contains a group of giggly women who are convinced that their tiny kingdom is the "wacky" place in the building, where people can go to have fun and let off steam, and just, you know, express themselves. The miserable thing is, they were probably right. But when they asked me, during the interview "So, what reality shows do you like watching the nest?" I should have just dived out of the open window.

After three weeks, the clouds parted slowly. The largest internet company on earth, which will go unnamed here (think about a business plan based partially on free cd-roms offering internet access) hired me to develop content and photography for their people connection section. For once in my life, this blog and my freelance writing were topics of FOCUS during an interview...the stuff I actually WANT to do!

As I look at it, no matter where I go, I'm going to be surfing the internet and writing this job, that's what I get paid to do. And by paid, I mean, paid better than that other ramshackle bunch of fudge puppets were paying me to lose ahir and gain weight while writing feverish nonsense about banking. Ultimately, the man-size dick sandwich I got served ended up being the best thing for me...although the people involved are crossed off my Christmas list like a motherfucker.

As for you're all invited to help me celebrate. If both of you in the DC area that read this blog and do not know me personally show up, I'll consider this thing a success...

Happy Hour this Friday

Great Joke

Q: What's George Bush's position on Roe v. Wade?
A: He really doesn't care how people get out of New Orleans.

...from BoingBoing...

Monday, September 05, 2005

Don't Bother Asking It For Money

This sign is on the front door to my apartment building...

sign on my apartment's front door

Thursday, September 01, 2005

We Shot Guns

My apartment is a disheveled wreck, half-way to clean and looking completely hopeless. Rather than buckle down and clean it up my inner demons are screaming at me to fuck around and waste time, and I am once again, powerless to resist.

Instead I am compelled to sit here at my hot laptop in the late humid heat and tell you all about my friend Eric's bachelor party, wherein a bunch of stinking dudes went to a filthy deer hunters' cabin in the woods outside of Lynchburg, VA and fired some seriously heavy weaponry under the influence of tequila, scotch and secret poisons secreted by our own testicles.

This is an image of me firing an AR-15 down the driveway, wildly missing the targets...

Shooting That Thing

I am pretty knee-jerk liberal and anti-gun, but I have to admit that they are pretty freaking fun to shoot. The weight, the slick metal and chk-chk-sounds they make as you lock and load them are somehow fulfilling, as though the machine is saying to you "if nothing in your life is at all reliable, I am. I am powerful and heavy, a vicious death-dealing instrument that will obey your commands."

From what I understand, this weapon is a semi-automatic, which means that it will not spit a hose stream of bullets, but will shoot as fast as one can squeeze the trigger. The weapons sort of crept into my brain and made me see everything as potential targets. Eventually, every item that moved or caught my attention sparked the same thought: "What would that look like with a bullet through it?" How would it react to getting shot?"

I could feel a J.G. Ballard sort of transformation taking place in my head, where in a distant but approaching fantasy realm I could sort of fantasize getting shot as a transformative, magical experience--my mind saw sprays of blood and bone chip in slow motion, almost abstract and beautiful I kept that shit to myself, though. Voicing that sort of thing is the BEST way to wreck the party...

Another distressing side effect I did not notice until later is that this particular AR-15 makes its handler's bald spot grow a bit each time he pulls the trigger. This picture must have been taken when the clip was nearly empty.

Here's a photo of my friend Eric holding up a cantaloupe he drilled with a .44 Magnum:

Right Through the Dome

When he shot it, the cantaloupe barely moved. It jerked slightly, sending a fine mist of lead-tainted fruit out into the forest behind it. It didn't even fall off the stump. We talked about it over breakfast the other day, and we all had the same thought: "Man, that looks TOO much like somebody's skull."

It was more fun shooting at old computer equipment...

Eric Tim

I did get to indulge a long-held fantasy of shooting an unresponsive keyboard so that it actually spun on the cord...

These are two of my best friends, along with Eric:

Loading Up

We all sat on the porch, furiously loading the clips and guns, drinking tequila and listening to Skynrd and laughing like hell. These guys are all super-liberal dudes, but look at them.

To see that picture, you just see a couple of red-faced white guys on some porch in the woods, loading up and joking about the coming revolution. Sure, we were shooting at photos pf Dick Cheney and Ken Lay, but is this how it starts? Maybe the Michigan Militia and Pat Robertson just got started out doing their thing as a joke, you know, sort of a "can you believe this red state shit we're actually doing," and it caught hold and they actually liked it. Just because you are doing something "as a joke," or with detached hipster irony, doesn't mean you're not doing it.

The gun experience was really, really fun. It was the sort of thing one would want to do with one's closest male friends, and we all had a blast. It was like we were all kids again, blowing up our GI Joes with fireworks, shooting bottle rockets at each other. Eric and I used to play "Civil War" out in a field, shooting bottle rockets at each other and missing wildly, much like Civil War gunners must have. We got to do it more for real that day, and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

However, it demystifies William Burroughs and Hunter S. Thompson for me. That gun thing is a fetishistic mystique those guys cultivated. The reality of it is, killing isn't cool. Burroughs ought to know that better than anyone else. Those guys are still brilliant artists, but after a heavy weapons session of my own, I see them as much more nerdy and faux-Nugent than I used to.

Having that fun means forgetting that these things are death-dealing weapons, and pretending they are remote-control hole-punchers combined with fireworks. I think that's what most responsible gun fans do, pretend to save the world from zombies or terrorists or the Klan or whatever while shooting at fruits and tin cans. And that's fine and really fun...but it requires that you forget that guns are for killing. And I'm honestly confused about whether or not that's a good idea.