Thursday, April 27, 2006

Roo Shooter, Part 2

First One
My girlfriend took care of me the best that she could, and I managed occasional work as a dishwasher, furniture mover, and stonemason. But my meagre income was eating into my pride. I was tired of the wide, silver paint-lined grins that the Aborigines at the city center always flashed when they saw me shoplifting my meals. I was tired of shoplifting my meals.

Then Craig rang.

“G’day…is that Jeff?” It was.

“This is Craig Murphy. Steve Evans told me you was looking for a bit of work as an offsider to a ‘roo shooter.” That was true, yes.

“Well, I’m getting’ ready to go up to Nookawarra out bush for a couple days and I could use a bit of help. I can’t lift the boomers onto the Ute like I used to, and I’m lookin’ for someone to work the light and go get the ‘roos after I shoot ‘em. I’ll take you up there, take care of all your food, and offer you 400 bucks flat.” Sounded cool to me.

“I’ll meet you Monday at the train station,” Craig said. “Bring a couple pillows and a towel and some clothes you can get messy. We leave Tuesday morning, first thing.”


The kangaroo is a striking, strange creature, at once silly and majestic like the moose. It’s also the primary symbol of Australia. Portrayed on the national coat of arms, the creature has been used to advertise and anthropomorphize the Australian psyche all over the world. Not only does it adorn everything Australia produces—from postcards to foodstuff logos, from children’s books to novelty t-shirts—but it has proudly crept into the vernacular. In a nation that derogatorily calls its aboriginals “boongs,” its Asians “slants,” and its Italians “wogs,” white Aussies are referred to as “skips.”

For the Australians, the kangaroo is both a boon and pest, a national icon and creature to despise. The country is overrun with them—58 million, according to the latest census, making the species amongst the most common wild land mammal on earth. This, ironically, is mostly thanks to a sheep and cattle industry that have created an abundance of man-made pasture grasses and watering holes, and have driven dingoes—the kangaroos only predators, but “vermin” to sheep farmers—into the center of the country. These cute, fuzzy hoppers now pose a serious environmental threat to the rangelands. Travelling in packs of several hundred, they can easily cover up to 500 kilometers. A pod can bisect a farm on one of these journeys and cause thousands of dollars’ worth of damage to valuable crops in a single night, wrecking fences and outgrazing cattle for rare desert grass.

Consequently it’s perfectly legal in Australia to kill kangaroos, but not all kangaroos. Only the four most plentiful species can be commercially harvested. And it’s not indiscriminate, but part of a far-reaching Management Plan drawn up by the Federal conservation Department. The Plan is basically a system of population monitoring and quota setting. After deciding on a maximum allowable “take” for a given year,the States Authority sells individually and sequentially numbered plastic lockable tags. To qualify as a legal kill each kangaroo must be tagged, and he circulation of these tags are also closely watched to ensure the harvest in any one area doesn’t top the quota.

So if you’re a licensed hunter, you buy tags from the government, load up a truck with a weeks’ worth of food, water and fuel and drive out into the bush to slaughter as many kangaroos as you can safely carry. You then lug the carcasses into town and sell them to a kangaroo processor. Processors will only buy those beasts you’ve humanely killed (i.e. head-shot as opposed to “skin only” which targets the legs and the neck). It works in everyone’s best interest this way: the ‘roos are killed humanely, and processors don’t buy meat that’s been contaminated with lead bullets.

The culling is vast. At its highest, in 2002, total deaths hit seven million. Twenty percent of Australia's kangaroo population was wiped out in a single year. Little surprise, then, that the animals are now seen by many as natural resource, with the processing of their body parts one of Australia’s fastest-growing industries. Kangaroo meat is now considered a delicacy outside of Australia and exported to fifty-five countries. The soft hides are highly prized by tanneries for being very durable, yet light in weight. The kangaroo economy brings in over $200 million dollars per year and employs about 4,000 people.

Craig is a professional “harvester”, and has been shooting the animals since he was eight years old. “Most weeks, if we wanted to eat meat, we shot a ‘roo. That’s how it was in early days, mate.” After finishing high school, Craig trained as a roof carpenter, supplementing his income with money earned from ‘roo shooting trips and occasional work as an oil driller. Apparently he had never worn a shirt to work, either—the man looked like a crocodile hide stretched over giant sack of rice.

I imagine that most licensed hunters are like Craig, men who grew up in the bush their entire lives with kangaroo killing as part of the lifestyle. The most vocal of the four kangaroo shooter associations—The NSW Professional Kangaroo Cullers—have stated they’d like to see shooters recognised as a full time occupation, much like fishing. And interest does seem to be high: 6,236 occupier licences were issued for the commercial zone in 1999 and 5,130 in 2000.

That said, no one in their right mind would classify commercial kangaroo shooting as a career with long-term prospects. It's certainly not the type of work you'd take up if there was something better to do. Nor is kangaroo shooting an aspect of Australian culture that is particularly revered or immortalized. Even the gruffest, grizzliest shooter recognizes the job has some nasty aspects and puts it behind him as quickly as possible. Craig confided in me that he no longer dreamed when he slept.

This is part two of a five-part story. Click here for parts one, two, three, four, or five.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

No Excuses

the three amigos
Originally uploaded by eatsdirt.
It was free cone day at Ben and Jerry's stores across America today. This garnered a small amount of media attention on what must have been an otherwise slow news day.

Every year when I hear about free cone day, I think about the best and worst excuse in the entire world.

I was in college, visiting my friend at the University of Greensboro. Greensboro, N.C. is not without its charms, but it also has no shortage of heroin addicts, shady massage parlor and "health spas" and an extremely gregarious selection of street characters.

Greensboro is ground zero for the tobacco industry, and many stores sell individual cigarettes for maybe a quarter apiece. It is entirely likely that when someone asks you for change to get a cigarette, he is going to spin around and do exactly that as soon as you give him the quarter.

At least, the Marinator always did. The Marinator kept one cigarette behind his ear at all times. Whenever he got another one, he would take the cigarette from behind his ear, light it, and replace it with the fresh cigarette.

It was the kind of afternoon where you have to drive the temperature instead of the speed limit. The hot dog's breath of southern summer had not yet kicked in, but two bottles of Thunderbird had. Eric and I were draped in full effect over the park bench in front of the Ben and Jerry's, idly discussing the concept of an ice cream cone.Ben and Jerry's
The Marinator hustled out of the alleyway like he was late to work, barely saying "a-ight, fellas" on his way into the ice cream store. We sat up, ready for action.

The scene played itself out in silent pantomime. The Marinator was pleading at the counter with hands clasped and slumped, humble posture. The clerk shook his head slowly, resolutely, saying No.

The Marinator grew agitated, hopping up and gesticulating wildly. He was shouting, but we couldn't hear a damn thing. He pounded on the counter with his fist, marched up to his favorite flavor and punched the glass in front for emphasis. The clerk shouted back, pointing to the door. Cords stuck out of his pink neck. People came out of the back.

The Marinator made to split, then did a wicked pump-fake and bum-rushed the man behind the counter. Two guys from the back grabbed him and frog-marched him to the street, kicking and silently howling behind the thick glass.

They shoved him into the road and jerked the door shut behind him, locking it. One clerk grabbed the phone and quickly dialed.

The Marinator bounced off the pavement like he had a rubber ass. He smoothed his hair, touched the cigarette behind his ear and looked at us for a second, shrugging. Then he did a rapid about-face and screamed at the store, shouting,

"Motherfuckers! I was SICK on free cone day!"

'Roo Shooter, Part 1

You may recognize this story from this blog, over a year ago. Since then, it's developed to a publishable state, been published, and been forgotten. In the absence of any other content, I'll be running this in installments on here over the next couple of days...

We’ve been hammering at the Outback highway since dawn. Red dust and spinifex grass run to the horizon in every direction, forming a long ribbon of alien terrain under a technicolour blue sky. Craig hasn’t said a word for the last six hours. He’s already played both his Elvis tapes and is saving Jerry Lee Lewis for the all-night drive back. On the way home from a shooting trip you've got to drive all night so the meat doesn't spoil.

We turn off the paved road into dirt tracks that lead us deep into the bush. Soon, we pull up to a long corrugated tin shack graced with a concrete slab porch. Two giant refrigerators sit out front like fat metal marshmallows dotted with faint crimson stains.

"Go on, pick your room, mate, just not the one with me cooler in it," Craig orders. "I brung that up special."

My bedroom has a low metal cot and a foam mattress. Red dust covers everything: my bed, the table, the toothbrush and wadded-up tissue the last guy left behind. A table scarred with the cuts from a million knives, stained with oil and dried blood, sits next to a dusty generator out on the front porch. Imagine an abandoned prospector's cabin on Mars, or an axe murderer's holiday home.

"Craig, this is so cool," I shout. "It's the most godforsaken place I've ever seen in my life!" I mean it with the sort of artificial exuberance my friends back home in Richmond use to describe roller-skating, duckpin bowling or their supposed love for Journey. You know the tone.

Craig grunts "Call it what you want, mate, but it's me fuckin' life, and I like it."

Embarrassed, I stutter out an apology. I later learn it's impossible to hurt a 'roo shooter's feelings with a bunch of tiny words. And as I’ll discover when I chop the paws off of my first kangaroo, its blood spraying into my eyes and open mouth, my own life had already become more different than I could ever have imagined.


Richmond, Virginia is the sort of town that’s friendly to boredom and torpor. For a couple of years after college, I scraped by on nine bucks an hour, did my laundry at my parents’ and claimed to be a writer and musician.

After a major lifestyle hemorrhage wherein I realized how closely to squandering my twenties I had come, I donated my drums to the thrift store, sold my records and my van and bought a ticket to Sydney.

Within an amazingly short amount of time, I had a girlfriend on the other side of the continent and one of the most beautifully isolated cities in the world. It was a dream come true—my frustration and loneliness suddenly replaced with the picture-book perfection of life on a foreign beach with a gorgeous lady by my side.

Then I ran out of money.

This is part one of a five-part story. Click here for parts one, two, three, four, or five.

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Monday, April 24, 2006

Prancing Headless DogBots

Kicking the DogBot
Originally uploaded by chinese_fashion.
I've found this oddly terrifying video (via WFMU) of a four-legged robot being tested out in a variety of field conditions -- mud, snow, and tall grass. The robot itself is oddly familiar, a doglike android with a mincing, prancing step. All four of its legs have reversed knees like a dog's front legs, and the android's high, prance is perfect to allow it to navigate uneven, slippery terrain. In perhaps the most arresting sequence of the video, a man gives the Prancing DogBot a good hard kick to the side, and it regains its balance exactly the way a dog would. It's hard not to feel a wave of sympathy for the kicked machine.

Afterwards, all my sympathy turns into an odd, gnawing fear. This creature moves exactly the way that certain puppets on Sesame Street did that scared the unholy bejesus out of me as a little kid. When things that moved like this Prancing DogBot's legs came on TV, I couldn't even get close enough to turn the thing off -- I'd just bury my head under the couch cushions and try not to hear or see.

Here's the video itself:

As a small child, I had dreams and daytime visions of an army of faceless, soulless creatures marching to kill me and everything good in the world. The creatures would kill me and my teddy bear straight away, but I knew that they would enslave my parents and grandparents and make them do horrible, repetitive things.

Sometimes when I lay very still at night I could hear them marching in lockstep through space and time, getting closer and closer to my closet door which as well know was the gateway to other, more evil dimensions. If the door was shut tight, somehow the creatures from the other dimensions couldn't bust through. Doorknobs, you see, although simple on Earth, were completely alien to the army of prancing dogbots.

it was not until years later that I realized the steady thudding march of the dogbots was just my heartbeat thudding behind my eardrum on a pillow.

Now when I see this video, I am possessed with a similar vision. It is the year 2080, and the cold of winter is just beginning to recede into spring. The last straggling packs of humans have tired of sleeping in caves. Some of the braver souls in our camp spent last night out by the mouth of the cave, exposed to the robots' heatseeking devices and not even hidden by foliage, as the trees are still bare.

We all wake at down to the shrieking, beelike diesel chorus of a dozen dogbots in the not-so-distant distance. From my vantage point on a granite outcropping, I can see a dozen dancing digital dogs nimbly picking their way uphill towards us, the heatseeking laser turrets on their backs sweeping the area.

They haven't found us yet, but they are advancing with their merciless, silly march. I try to shout 'run', but the words will not come. A dark stain spreads across my crude tunic as I realize our fate, even as I ready a boulder over my grey, balding head to crush the first wave of attackers.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


I've been experimenting with Not Blogging lately. It's been great, but not without its drawbacks. When you really get into Not Blogging, the air is fresher and cleaner -- you have more time, more energy for friends, a more leisurely approach to life beyond the glowing rectangle. When I am Not Blogging, I don't compare myself to peers in the area with narcissistic blogs about partying, dating, and how hot the blogger is that are nevertheless insanely popular.

In my darker moments, I want to see what would happen to certain DC bloggers' traffic if they gained 30 pounds, posted the photos, and didn't mention dating for a month.

Not that I am bitter.

The problem with Not Blogging is that it doesn't address my vain, egocentric side, the side that craves constant attention and the validation that comes from metrics PROVING how fabulous everyone thinks I am. My tiny Puritan work ethic shrieks every time it is neglected, screaming "do you want to work for someone else forever? Do you really think that enjoying life ever got anyone anywhere!?"

So yeah -- yin and yang and all that. Life's a rich tapestry and you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. Who wants to see something weird?
Still from 'Pink'
This video from fantastic photographer Charlie White (thanks again, BoingBoing) certainly fits the bill. It fits really perfectly into my aesthetic world as it is both creepy and light, pink and terrifying.

I'll be back to blogging soon enough. In the meantime, let's all get outside, enjoy some deep breaths and remember that when the going gets rough, doing something weird is usually the answer. AAAaaahhh...

Monday, April 17, 2006

Easter: Just Shut Up and Love

It was Easter this weekend, and I spent it up in Norfolk, Virginia with my family. Since I don't have a car, I use a form of digitally enabled hitchhiking made possible by Craigslist. Every ride is some sort of adventure. This time I caught a ride with an incredibly kind, stoic grandmother who listened to contemporary country and a CB radio at EXACTLY THE SAME VOLUME the entire ride down. A chain-smoker, my ride and I whiled the time away talking about real estate, the weather, and the god-awful traffic we were quite literally parked in.

There could not have been more traffic outside of the city if Godzilla has appeared at the White House, wearing a turban and breathing anthrax instead of fire.

A tremendous thunderstorm hovered next to the interstate on the drive home. We stared down the heavy setting sun while thick ropes of lightining lashed across the sky just to the right. My driver got noticeably more nervous, rolling up her window and crushing a smoldering butt out, saying "I need a cigarette."

"Don't mind me," she said with forced cheer. "Ever since I got hit by lightning, I get a little nervous during electrical storms."

Everyone's got a story, man -- you just got to talk to people long enough to find out what it is.

My grandmother and I had another fantastic flying carpet ride of a conversation this trip. She is astonishingly sharp for a woman in her early 90's, but the part of her brain that secreted the "don't say that" hormone is loOong gone. It makes conversation really fun, actually, because she's still sharp as a tack, just a little handier with the non-sequiturs. She's mentally quite agile, and really keeps you on your toes.


We sort of talked simultaneously about Easters past and U.S. immigration policy. She reminded me of a lot of great times we had had in years long past, and how much fun she and the rest of the family had putting together Easter baskets for me and my sister.

For many years, I could count on the Easter Bunny aka My Mom to put a yo-yo and a copy of Mad Magazine in my Easter basket.

Easter Yo-Yo

Another year, my sister and I were given stuffed animals and animal puppets.

Me, Sister, Easter Puppets

Daro, Jess and I used to make tents out of blankets and play circus with stuffed animals. Daro loved to be the elephant and lumber around the room on all fours, which cracked Jess and I up to no end.

One year, we actually raised ducklings and released them into the wild a month or so after Easter. That was the same year I learned that many mother birds actually regurgitate food into their young's mouths during their formative stages. You can see me getting ready to feed the ducklings here:


All of a sudden, we veered over to immigration policy and stayed there for a good while. Daro is the sort of red-blooded American that survived the Depression, sent her husband off to World War II, fought for integration in the schools during the 60's and now listens to Rush Limbaugh and think he's a newscaster. Me, I'm a knee-jerk artsy-fartsy liberal, in case you hadn't noticed.

Nevertheless, we were able to have an intelligent, reasonable and respectful conversation despite the fact that neither of us actually knew what the hell we were talking about.

That's the beauty of my family. We operate on a series of respectuful, delicate fictions, and are able to love each other so dearly partially because we have entire areas of experience that we never, ever discuss. It always amazes me how we can be so close and know so little about each other -- it's an act of blind faith that gets rewarded every time we greet each other with a great big hug, and I never want to completely understand it. Some things you got to just accept as awesome without ever monkeying around under the hood, and that's even coming from a deep-thinking self-conscious liberal.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

"Crazy" for Gnarls Barkley and "Saint Elsewhere"


There's a lot being written and said about Gnarls Barkley, and none of it's bad. The super-combo of Cee-Lo Green and hip-hop producer Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton, has risen to the top of the UK Music charts powered solely by download sales.

"Crazy," arguably the single of the moment is a seductive, sexual, funny, and infinitely repeatable. In the words of Alexis Petridis in the Guardian,

"It echoes all kinds of apparently contradictory music - the exquisite misery of a southern soul ballad, the tempo and spacey euphoria of an old vocal house anthem, the clanking, unfunky bassline of a 1980s indie band - but the cumulative effect sounds like nothing else."

She makes a strong case. I only just downloaded the album Friday morning, and am away from my computer for a much-needed Easter weekend with the family, but I can't think about anything else. I though Wolfmother was the new heat, and in the rock world they are. But this stuff is gospel-silky and electro-indie and so, so cool. Gnarls Barkley fits perfectly into the new canon of poppy hipster rap, right along with DangerDoom, Outkast and Doctor Octagon. It may be a stretch, but "Crazy" could elbow its way onto wedding dancefloors and bar mitzvahs until the end of time, right along with "brick House" and Outkast's recent addition, "Hey Ya."

If nothing else, Gnarls Barkley is the new gold standard for pimping out a Myspace profile. How do you even do that to a Myspace page? And why has nobody else bothered?

The entire album is available in stores on April 24th, and it's all but guaranteed to be the first huge album of the summer. But since you people put up with my verbose vomiting of musical memories, I'll give you a free download of Gnarls Barkley's album "Saint Elsewhere," available until Friday, April 23rd. All I ask is that you show me some love, tell your friends, and keep commenting.

Gnarls Barkley: "Saint Elsewhere."

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Pour Some Sugar on My Trombone

Originally uploaded by chinese_fashion.

For some reason, music gets good in springtime. Songs have more hope. They inspire huge flights of fancy and big dumb projects that either flop miserably or change your whole life.

We all have springtime songs from the past that just do it for us.And that'e the next best thing about spring, apart from the weather: it gives meaning to a whole new batch of music.

By the spring of 1988, my relationship with the trombone was officially on the rocks. It was the silliest instrument the sixth-grade band had to pick from, which made it a major plus when I chose it that fall, and I figured that since I didn’t have to learn any complex fingering, it would be that much easier to learn. Boy, was I ever wrong. It turned out that you had to actually be good at the trombone to do all of the fun stuff with it, and getting good meant practicing, which I was definitely not into.

I was too busy caring about breakdancing and drawing my own Super Carrot comics to pick up the trombone like my parents forced me to, five days a week for half an hour a day. Christmas vacation had been a nightmare of parentally mandated two-hour practice sessions to make up for all my lost time. One can neglect ones’ homework pretty quietly, but the sound of a kid not practicing his trombone is aggressively inaudible.

By the time the spring concert started rolling around, things were getting pretty heavy between me, my dad and the trombone. My dad was of the opinion that once you commit to something, you see it through... a good lesson for a growing boy. However, he was also determined not to be the father of the kid who screwed up the band’s spring concert. There was no explaining to him that no matter how little I practiced, there were plenty of kids in the band than I did.

The thing about being in the sixth grade is that these tiny things with tremendous implications that change your whole life happen every day, and you barely notice them. I felt the full weight of this transformation the moment it happened, and I’ve been fully aware of it ever since.

I was polishing off the back end of an old chocolate rabbit during a little break before settling into the onerous business of learning some Bach, when I decided to flip on the radio. Terence Trent D’Arby was on his way out, and the DJ’s faux-breathless voice kicked in. I was so young, I couldn’t tell his voice was a beard for his boredom... I got a little excited every time the DJ said anything. But that night, what he said helped change my whole thing…

“Now, debuting at number one in tonight’s Hot Eight at Eight: Def Leppard’s 'Pour Some Sugar on Me'!!”

The opening chords and steady, relentless beat poured out of my amp and right into my tiny prelibidinal mind. I didn’t know what was happening, who was in charge anymore, or which way was up. All I knew was that from now on, things would be different. My second instinct, following the urge to crank the radio (which I did) was to grab the nearest instrument and try to catch this amazing, rockin’ wave.

I blew my hardest, pumping the slide of the trombone in rhythm to the drums while mimicking the lyrics' rhythm with my breath. I had never heard that song before, and as I mentioned previously, I sucked at the trombone. All that pent-up frustration, all that sixth-grade springtime energy just flew, unchecked, out of my lungs, around the golden loops of the horn and right into the living room to willingly, achingly, pour some sonic sugar onto Joe Elliott’s rockin’ creation.

My dad came into the room and turned the radio down. He looked at me with total confusion and said, “Jeffrey. I may regret saying this later, as it totally contradicts all that I stand for. But your mother and I would love it if you would stop playing the trombone tonight.”

So I'm curious, readers -- what songs do you love, and what dumb stuff did they make you do?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Wolfmother Is the New Zeppelin

Wolfmother Poster
Originally uploaded by The Kozy Shack.
Mark my words, people: these guys are serious.

Australia has a pretty nice cultural tradition going for itself in that it produces bands that are never terrifically innovative, but do what they fuck they do better than anyone else on earth. Wolfmother fits squarely within that tradition.

Think about it: AC/DC -- straight ahead balls-out rock. INXS, same deal, but cokier. Now Wolfmother, the sonic fusion of Zeppelin, Trail of the Dead, and every picture your friend's older brother ever drew on the cover of his math book.

I hear Wolfmother and I think of springtime in Norfolk, rolling out to the Boathouse in my man Phil's crappy Chevy Manza. I think of skipping school to smoke dope on the way to the beach and summoning up the nerve to crash the preppy crowd's parties and talk to the girl in my math class. Given my prowess at the time, I would have asked about the killer test that week, but you know, baby steps.

These guys are like Sabbath and the lone shred of hippies that are still cool all rolled up into one psychedelic thundering explosion. They played South By Southwest, a few club show here and there...

If anyone's gonna bring the magic of hesher stadium rock back to America, it's gonna be these manic Aussies. Mark my words, it's not going to be long before you start seeing Wolfmother tattoos. On people's FACES.

Here's an incredible video, and the making of said video, with a little interview...

Additionally, you can download their entire album here, but it's gone after 6 days or 25 downloads.

Si, Se Puede

There were rallies nationwide today and last week against legislation approved in the House of Representatives that would make it a felony to be in the US without proper papers. Although it is an open secret that America is built on institutionalized racism, this is embarrassing, even for us. I met with two members of Washington D.C.’s Youth Action Research Group this Saturday and again on the National Mall yesterday afternoon to talk about this proposed reform, their experience in America as the children of Latin immigrants, and the walkout they helped stage at their high school last week as a form of civil protest.

Jose Andrade
Originally uploaded by chinese_fashion.

Jose Andrade is the 19-year old son of two illegal immigrants from Honduras. He is a senior at Bell Multicultural High School in Northwest D.C., works two jobs outside of school and hopes to attend college after he graduates.

“Before my mother hooked up with my stepdad,” he says, “she was terrified she’d be deported and me and all my brothers and sisters would have to go to foster homes. And she had the pressure of having to provide for us on top of that. She is the kind of woman that tells you her problems, too, and that gave me a lot of anxiety, growing up.”

“Now my mother and father both have temporary work permits. My dad works in an auto body shop. Every year, he has to renew his permit, and it costs $500. Even if he gets the application off on time, it takes so long for his new permit to come in the mail. It might take seven months of us hoping he gets it, checking the mail every day until it finally comes. Then he has to turn around and reapply in 3 months for another one.”

Judith Reyes
Originally uploaded by chinese_fashion.

Judith Reyes is also a senior at Bell Multicultural High School, hoping to attend college in the fall. Her parents came to the U.S. from El Salvador to escape the civil war and give her and her siblings a shot at an education that means something. “In El Salvador,” she explains, “the best schools in El Salvador are full of people from gangs. You get good grades by threatening the teacher, not by studying and working hard.”

Judith’s father is a cook, and her mother works cleaning office buildings at night. Her parents have temporary work permits as well, which also cost $500.

“My friend Jose (a different one) is an illegal immigrant to America. He’s only been here five years, and he’s a senior in high school now. He’s been in the honor society since 9th grade, and has a 4.2 GPA. He tutors kids, and he helped us organize this walkout. He might not be able to go to college because of his migration status. His parents came here, though. Was he supposed to just stay home in eighth grade?” Judith asks.

On Thursday, April 6th, Jose and Judith and several other members of the Youth Action Research Group organized approximately 150 students into a walkout at Bell Multicultural High School here in Northwest Washington, D.C. The students are protesting proposed immigration laws that would make it a felony to be in the United States without proper papers. Therefore, the families of millions of people would be abetting felons, thereby breaking the law themselves. The students also wished to show support for the DREAM act, which would essentially allow the immigrants and immigrant’s children to attend colleges in their state of residence at in-state rates, thereby making college infinitely more accessible.


The school has traditionally been a place for immigrants and the children of immigrants to attend high school. “It’s not like this walkout was the protest of the school,” Jose says. “Actually, we knew the school officials supported us, but they just can’t officially say it.”

But when you’re a senior in high school with a fast-food job, and zero political power, one of the only ways you can be heard is by walking out of school, even if the administration’s hearts are on your side.

“One of our teachers was mad at us, kinda,” Judith explained. “She was like, ‘if you had asked, we could have done something’, but if we had asked and then got turned down, we thought we might get in more trouble, so we decided to walk out alone and accept whatever consequences came.”

Jose was scared the walkout wasn’t going to happen at all. So was Judith, and I would bet all the students involved were pretty terrified.

“We left at 1:50, and by lunchtime, I was real nervous, hands all shakin’ and everything,” Judith says. “Kids was telling me ‘Judith, we’re scared, they’re threatening us with suspension if we leave.’ We said ‘nobody’s making you do this. It’s got to be what’s in your heart, what you feel is right. If you don’t feel it, don’t do it. You can only do this if you want to. ‘”

Jose was really scared at first, too. “I thought to myself, ‘man, if we go to leave and only like ten people walk out the door, I’m staying my ass in class,’” It is true that of 300 students who verbally committed to leaving the school in protest, only about 150 actually made it out the doors. Judith and Jose were really glad for their peers that joined them, and really disappointed in the ones that didn’t make it.

“After we left, though,” says Judith, “I felt like we did something good.”

Students Marching

It had to be scary to go outside school as part of an organized walkout and see the parking lot lined with cop cars. The students knew that police were going to be there to preserve the peace and keep everyone safe, but this student body has good reason to take a dim view of any sort of police involvement. A lot of spoiled honkies (myself included) read this blog, and we think nothing of the cops except when they busted up our beer parties and punk shows in college. These kids see them differently, which is a whole other post. Long story short: that shit must have been scarier that most of us reading this can imagine.

“ We had asked people not to confront the police, and kept reminding everyone that the cops were just doing their jobs, just watching,” Judith said. After the students walked out of school, they remained in the high school parking lot and conducted a peaceful march. Some flew flags, others waved banners, and some talked to reporters from the Washington Post.

Jose and Judith Talk to Reporters

The Washington Post. A small group of frustrated, orderly minority teenagers were able to attract attention to their cause from one of the greatest newspapers in the world. They were mentioned twice in the paper in the same week. If that doesn’t give you faith in the future and hope for America, The Man has bitten an artery in your soul, and now you, too are The Man. The truth hurts, honkies.

Jose elaborates, “We assigned people positions to keep the group together, like sheepdogs. We couldn’t have people just going home as an excuse to skip school.”

I asked Jose if he considered the opposing point of view at all.

“If you were to sit me down across from one of the Minutemen, and ask us to debate migration, they could probably out-argue me with a knowledge of the law. They probably know the history of the laws, the precedents, and they could make a case. But where I’m coming from, it’s a moral standpoint. They might be able to out-argue me by saying ‘the law say this and that,’ but the law is wrong. It’s going to be very difficult to convince them of anything when we argue values and morals, because they will have to share mine to see my point. It’s gonna be tough, man.”

I haven’t considered the opposing side at all, personally, and I’m not at all prepared to start anytime soon. I don’t have to be, either. This is a blog, not a newspaper.

I don’t want to hear a fucking thing from anyone about America’s immigration problem unless it’s from a full-blooded Apache. Once someone in Congress open his speech with a prayer to the Great Spirit and addresses America’s long-neglected permeable border in eastern Virginia, my mind will begin to open up. Until then, I’m digging in my white liberal heels.

I was an illegal alien in Australia for the better part of a year, and it was miserable. I worked as a dishwasher, a furniture mover, a kangaroo shooter. I wore a hairnet and sat in a windowless, A/C-less warehouse in the middle of the desert, stuffing plastic cutlery into plastic bags so that people on airplanes could eat without using their fingers. One job, I worked in the blazing sun heaving boulders into a wheelbarrow and pushing the wheelbarrow uphill. The world’s most poisonous snakes lived in among the boulders.

I was supported by a loving girlfriend, too, so I didn’t even have it that bad, all things considered. When I pinched a nerve in my back and had to lie on the floor and weep for several days, someone that loved me brought me food and icepacks.

Even though my basic needs for food and shelter were being met, I felt terrible pretty much around the clock. I could see how much stress I was causing her, and I felt the pressure of every stretched dime. I used to haunt the town center looking for work, looking at vineyards and hostels and construction sites. Some days I had to choose between paying for a vegemite roll at lunch and paying for a train ride home, or shoplifting lunch and paying for a train ride. Other days, I didn’t have to choose. I stole my lunch AND snuck onto the train because I didn’t have enough money with me to do either one.

All I wanted to do was work hard, pay my share of the rent and groceries, and pay taxes. That was all I wanted in the world.

When she came over here, the same thing happened. She was hired at an Indian restaurant in DuPont Circle and treated like a retarded dog. They routinely underpaid her, lied to her, and one time another guy tried to bludgeon her with a telephone. The whole staff was either Indian or Latin, and something tells me that that place’s tax returns were highly fictionalized. Now, whenever someone says that Heritage of India is a nice restaurant, I have to correct them. I say “the food is wonderful, but it’s not a nice restaurant at all.

If enough upper-middle class American white boys like me had had the same diluted illegal alien experience I did, we would not be debating “immigration reform” today. We would just be reforming it, and in a whole different direction. The last time I checked, America was built on the dreams and sweat of foreigners. That’s the beauty of this place: nobody is from here, and everyone is supposed to be working towards the same dream.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Blog Roundup

It's been months, but finally, finally, Mister Babylon has a new post up.

As I've mentioned before, Mister Babylon is an ESL teacher somewhere deep in the Bronx, slugging it out for the forces of good. His love for his job and his kids does not preclude him from hating on them, and he describes the intersection of his life and theirs with sharp, hilarious detail. It's worth going through his archives and reading every last sentence, but I have to warn you: if you do, you'll be back every day, craving more and more, and the man does not post all that frequently. At all. My RSS reader creaks when he updates his blog.

Magic happens on its own time.

Kathryn tipped me off to an incredible series of stories on Kevin Smith's blog. This is the Kevin Smith of 'Clerks,' 'Mallrats,' 'Chasing Amy,' etc. Called My Boring-Ass Life, the blog chronicles his daily life as a filmmaker and comic book junkie. The man is a professional writer, and it shows.

The stories I am referring to are long chapters in an epic true tale of Kevin Smith's attempts to help his best friend Jason Mewes to kick a terriblt Oxycontin and heroin habit, all while filming 'Dogma' and 'Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.' The stories are a little funny, incredibly sad, full of love and self-deprecation.

Here's links to parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

That's all I got, people. Happy Friday.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Eric in the Basement

This may be the greatest piece of music I am ever associated with, and I can't remember how we did it. We never practiced for it, played it once, and never played it again. I'll never be able to play like that again, either. My neighbors at the time this was recorded are probably very grateful for that.

I can remember the dented cymbal, tied to the bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. I can remember the tambourine around my ankle and the poor cracking maraca leaking beans rhythmically. We found the bass drum on one of our many late-night alleyway odysseys through Richmond, always started too late and after too much, too much, waaay too much.

I remember seeing Eric across the tiny room, teeth glowing yellow in the swinging bulb-light, grimacing and alternately bugging his eyes out and squinching them up tight as he ground the guitar line out.

I don't know who played the bass. There were only two of us in the room, pushing the skin of our faces back with blinding, rattling repetitive sound.

Willie leaned up against the screen door downstairs and offered his critique: "Y'all SUUuuck! Y'all ain't got no rhythm!" He might have been homeless and insane, but he probably had a point.

I think I had hooked Jeff Gordon's busted-up rattletrap homemade theremin up to a delay pedal. At crucial points in the song, I'd lean over and manipulate the electromagnetic field around the theremin with my hand, madly twiddling the knobs on the pedal to create that bubbling whoop you hear during the breakdowns. My leg never stopped moving that tambourine and the leaky maraca never left my hand.

I like that phrase: leaky maraca.

The key, as I recall, to getting the theremin to do that thing was to envision its antenna as a staff of elastic taffy. My hand pulled long strings from it, and by keeping the strings exactly the same length, I could semi-predictably create the same sounds.

A Theremin

I think. It's all pretty hazy.

Sometimes Eric crashed the cymbal by bashing it with the head of his guitar as he played...other times I sprayed beans all over the studio and whacked it with a maraca.

He leaned over the four-track and twiddled knobs with one hand while playing the guitar going with the other. The four track would only work if it was leaned sideways at a certain angle. We didn't have the money to fix it. He'd have to doctor his amp, too, which would occasionally puke massive shrieks out the window and nearly deafen us.

There was only one take, one recording, of two people out of their minds on sound and vision. We played this riff, this semi-song for close to two hours. What you hear is the best part of the jam, where everything came together, edited out into three minutes and thirty or so seconds.

We were underpaid, overlooked, furious at work, great and terrible at our instruments all at once. We hadn't met the third member yet, the woman whose presence made us a band. We were just nice guys, too creative for our town, drunk and angry and not even sure how to express it all.

Shit, I miss those days.

Here's the track:

Mushroom, by Eric Browne, Jeff Simmermon, and God knows what all else.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

This Priest Is Fierce

Hey, welcome, Queerty readers and others. For clarity's sake, I am posting a correcting that the subject of this story just emailed to me. Please, please keep this in mind when you are reading the following story:

"The Orisha are ok with all kinds of love, it's disrespect that they are not fond of. The fact that I did not ask Oshun was disrespectful. Yemaya would not be happy if straight people were getting busy in front of her. And the Orishas love gay people. The majority of santeros are gay because the Orisha do not care if you are gay or straight, just that you love and respect them."

Fierce Priest
Originally uploaded by chinese_fashion.

Every writer knows that dive bars house their share of secret angels, but the Angel I met at the Raven on Friday night is no common gold-hearted barmaid. For starters, he's a high priest in Santeria, a religion that fuses Catholic and Yoruban beliefs in a fashion very, very similar to Haitian Vodou -- voodoo to the uninitiated. Angel is no stranger to a live animal sacrifice.

He doesn't usually slum with breeders in dive bars like the Raven, either. Cobalt and Halo are a lot more his speed.

No matter whose speed was what, by three a.m., we were all stumbling down the same path. We ended up in Angel's apartment, where he graciously, proudly gave me a tour of his altars and Orishas -- all constructed by hand.

Orishas are not necessarily gods and goddesses, but may as well be for the purpose of this story. Wikipedia refers to them as more like deified ancestors, or mystical, invisible super-heroes. There are a lot of them, and without meaning to seem pejorative, they are like the X-Men on a very cosmic, intangible scale.

The Orishas each rule several aspects of life, and have their own distinct personalities. Yemaja, for example, is mother of all living things and the owner of all water. She has a powerful presence in Angel's living room, casting her gaze over the living room, past the empty television cabinet and directly upon the couch.
"See, I take this very, very, seriously," Angel said. "Maybe to white people it seems all weird and shit, but this is my spirituality. It's my's bigger than just my life. I can't just be all kissing on some boy on my couch here in the living room. Yemaja will see it. If I get to making out all hot and heavy with some boy on my couch, I always have to take it to the bedroom, so we don't disrespect Yemaja."

We met up again at the Brickskellar on Sunday afternoon for some beer and buffalo wings. Angel wanted to go to the ESPN Sports Zone because in his estimation, they have the best wings, but it was crammed full of overflow from the circus at the MCI Center. Hooters was his second choice, but ditto, y'know.

Angel told me about his last run-in with Oshun, the goddess of connections, love, and good times. To illustrate her powers, Angel swept an arm over the table and around his head saying, "This, all this, is Oshun. Laughing, new friends, new connections, a few beers, some food...this is all Oshun. She brings people together, but man, she does it in ways you can't expect and it's roundabout as hell sometimes."
He had a crush on a guy recently, and crushes go the same way in his world as they do in mine. You just want that person you barely know in your life, NOW, straight away.

Most of us just have to suck it up and deal with it one way or another, but Angel has a few tricks available to him that many of us do not: he cast a spell. The spell was designed to bring this man into Angel's life, which is incredibly dangerous. They barely know each other, and for all Angel knows, the guy could be some kind of axe murderer.

Doubly dangerous, Angel did not ask Oshun's permission to cast the spell in her name. He did, however, make her a generous offering of oranges and honey, two of her favorite gifts. Angel wrote his name on a piece of paper and laid it across the name of his crush, sliding it under the skin of the five oranges. Oshun's number is five. He said a prayer and cast the spell. It was Sunday night.

Friday night, five nights later, Angel and a friend were settled into a big communal booth at Cobalt, which, if you did not bother to click on the link up there, is one of DC's better-known and more crowded gay bars. Angel and his crush met eyes across the room, and their pupils danced together. He texted his friend Michelle "the chase is on."

Just as he was getting up, Angel's friend's ex-lover (that phrase CRACKLES with bitchy drama already, doesn't it) huffed up. He demanded to know what his ex was doing with Angel, hurling false accusations left, right, and center and maybe being a little too heavy with the shoves.

I have hung out with Angel only twice, but I can tell you this. He might be small and gay, but he takes shit from NOBODY. I'm quite sure that he spat something terse and decimating at his accuser.

"Honey, the next thing I know, that motherfucker leapt through the air like he was Spiderman and shit, knocked me into a crowd of people. Drinks flew all up in the air, everywhere, queens were all screaming and flailing their arms, it was a mess, and we were like Alexis Colby and Crystal Carrington on Dynasty."

I didn't catch the reference.

Crystal and Alexis
Originally uploaded by chinese_fashion.

"You know, like on Dynasty, that soap opera, whenever Alexis and Crystal would just go at it, fighting on the floor, hair and dresses all flying all over the place, scratching and shit."

"Anyway, guess who pulls me up from the floor? The guy who I slammed into when that motherfucker attacked me, that's who. And guess who that was? My man, that's who."

"My spell worked. Oshun brought him into my life, alright, but not the way I wanted it. He touched me, and held me by my hand, sure, but now he probably thinks I'm some kind of spic that goes around getting into fights at gay bars."

People are all the time asking me, "what is this blog named like that for," and all I can say is: What else can you say after you tell a story that involves dive bars, Santeria, and invokes Spiderman and the cast of Dynasty to describe a fist fight in a gay bar?

See the URL, people. I can't make this stuff up.

Haven't Forgotten

...there will be a bigger post soon. I'm just exhausted at the moment. There's a true tale of a Santerian priest with a leather fetish and a thing for Dynasty getting into a fistfight at a gay bar and giving me a drunken tour of his apartment at 4 am this past weekend. But it's taking a little time to organize, and man, do I need some sleep.