Friday, March 30, 2007

David Lynch on Product Placement

That about sums it up ...

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Vote For Change

crunch bar
Originally uploaded by roboppy.
The monotony, it's too much to bear. Repetition can be good thing when you're talking about music, poetry or exercise, but this, this has got to stop.

Every apple, every spoonful of cereal, every time we the people fall hard into a big fluffy snowbank: the same damn thing. We need change, dammit, and the sooner the better.

I'm not talking about bloody coup or neck-slitting junta here, just SOMETHING new. We are men, not machines, and a steady diet of the same blurs that line disturbingly well. I think you know what I'm talking about, and when the revolution comes, remember my platform:

As emperor of the land, I will banish all crunching sounds. From that day forward, apples will WHISTLE when we bite them.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Happy Friday: The Hell Fruit

The Hell Fruit
Originally uploaded by Gems from the Collection.
Life is good, but hadn't a damn thing worth writing about happened in a little while. Here's a batch of links to tide you over and make that workday whistle right by ...

When people talk about art as a religious experience, they invariably invoke Michelangelo, Da Vinci, or Greek statuary, as though God stopped speaking to people hundreds of years ago and this art are well-read love letters from a long-dead romance. Fuck that. When I look at great sci-fi art I feel the earth slip away and get chills that radiate from the back of my skull all the way down my arms.

See if you can look at this incredible gallery from British pulp-mag artist Ron Turner without calling a tattoo shop.

Robotics engineers have invented a robot that can not only perceive rhythm but dance to it. From an article in the New Scientist:

Psychologists have shown that people are more engaging when they synchronise their movement to their voice or to the voice or movement of another person. Michalowski argues that robots will need a sense of rhythm if people are to accept them. "In the future you are going to be talking to some robot and just the ability of the robot to nod to what you are saying will make it easier to interact," he says.

Check out this video of that cute little fluffy robot, dancing to Spoon. If marshmallow peeps could dance like that, they might appeal to our hearts and escape our gnashing jaws each springtime, surviving to populate the entire planet.

Way out, deep in outer space, cosmic bullets are piercing a giant cloud of space gas. There's a cheap joke in there somwhere, but I can't quite find it ... Anyway, from

Each bullet [image] is about ten times the size of Pluto’s orbit around the Sun and travels through the clouds at up to 250 miles (400 kilometers) per second—or about a thousand times faster than the speed of sound ... As the bullets plow through the clouds, they leave behind tubular orange wakes, each about a fifth of a light-year long.

The photo is like, the best Trapper Keeper cover ever.

True dat: 16 things it takes most of us 50 years to learn

According to a number of sources, the I (Heart) Huckabees set was an utter emotional trainwreck. Director David O. Russell is widely reported to be brilliant, demanding and exasperating in equal amounts, and he and Lily Tomlin tangled like hell on the set. Defamer and WFMU's Beware of the Blog have more detailed posts on the matter, both well worth reading. Even if you don't read the posts, plug the headphones in and watch one of the best spontaneous displays of truly rotten behavior that I have ever seen:

Defamer posts:

Tomlin Vs. Russell: The 'I Heart Huckabees' Outtakes
Lily Tomlin On That Whole 'Huckabees' Deal

Happy Friday, people ...

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A Little Tooth, by Thomas Lux

Great poems are diamonds and the words in them individual carbon atoms laid perfect and tight. William Goldman said in Which Lie Did I Tell that poetry is the ultimate form of compression. It's true. I'm terrified to write poems myself, terrified because I know they're giong to suck eggs and I need to hide behind a little benefit of the doubt.

I first read the following poem on the New York subway a few weeks ago. It was part of some ad promoting mabe a book store or something. I just read it over and over again, stunned at how the author could sum up aging, life, disappointment, idiocy and change so perfectly. That last line has reverbed in my head ever since.

Rather than crap on and on about it, here it is:

A Little Tooth
by Thomas Lux

Your baby grows a tooth, then two,

and four, and five, then she wants some meat

directly from the bone. It's all

over: she'll learn some words, she'll fall

in love with cretins, dolts, a sweet

talker on his way to jail. And you,

your wife, get old, flyblown, and rue

nothing. You did, you loved, your feet

are sore. It's dusk. Your daughter's tall.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Found Cell Phone, Sorta

My land line rang at 2 am. A tentative voice said, "Hello? I found this cell phone at the gas station in Bowie. Is this Jeff?"

For backstory: I drove to BWI from D.C. Sunday night. I've never been there before. Mapquest screwed me and I got ALL lost in Northeast D.C., several times. I was an hour late, and more frantic than I'd care to admit when I stopped at some gas station up in Bowie to ask directions. After I left the gas station, I got a few miles up the road and realized I didn't have my cell phone. I freaked, pulled into the emergency lane and ransacked the car, then turned around and went back to the gas station. The attendant said there was no phone there, nobody had turned one in, nothing.

According to this guy on the phone, I must have left my cell phone on the counter when I went in that gas station to ask for directions. He came in a moment later "to buy my girlfriend a pack of smokes which I usually never do 'cause I don't like her smoking" and found my phone on the counter. At that moment, I was two miles up the road, parked in the emergency lane and turning the car inside out, looking for my phone.

He sounded hesitant, a little scared. He apologized for taking so long to call, said he wanted to do the right thing, but he was scared he'd get in trouble somehow. He even blocked the number he was calling from "so if things go bad, I can't be tracked." He claimed his mom had taken the phone from him, and then he took it back. "I'd bring you the phone myself, man, but I don't have a vehicle," he said. Unfortunately, I don't either. I asked if I could e-mail him. "I don't hardly ever get on the computer, man," he said.

"Maybe you could come out here and pick it up," he offered. "It would take like fifteen minutes from DC, and I can see the road right from my patio." The thing is, it would have to be at night. "My schedule, I can't sleep at night, so I stay up all night and go to bed early in the morning. I do carpentry on the weekends, don't need to work much because I stay with my mom. Maybe you could meet me at the job site in DC this weekend and I could give you the phone there?"

He swore he hadn't been making calls on it, apart from one to see what the number was. Verizon said someone had made a call at 2:45 the day after I lost it. I told him I'd cancelled that phone, so even if he had been calling Africa at lunchtime, I wasn't going to be charged. He sounded genuinely relieved.

"My mom, she takes our phone to work all day, and she brings it home at night," he said. "Maybe call me tomorrow after 7:30 to figure out how we can give it back?"

I told him I was a little sketched out by just driving out to a problematic part of Maryland after dark to meet a stranger at his house. He claimed he totally understood.

We're going to talk again tonight to figure out what to do, where to meet. I have a new phone already, I just want all my old numbers back. Something about this situation is ringing bells in my head, and I'm not sure why. He sounds legitimate, just handling this in a way that's a little dumb.

I didn't want him to incur any out-of-pocket expenses or hassle by mailing the phone to me, but something about meeting at night out in Bowie, MD, meeting a guy who waited 24 hours to call me, called me at 2 am and says he always sleeps all day and only works weekends ... it's not quite right.

SO I'm asking you, friends: what do I do? I want to believe that this guy is legit, but this whole thing is weird and I am NOT trying to get my ribs ventilated in a parking lot over a missing cell phone.

Please leave your advice in the comments ...

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Living the Dream

We've all had annoying co-workers. A couple jobs back I worked in an office with a woman that used to ramble on and on, LOUDLY, into her phone about all kinds of crap -- medications, family problems, her "cycle." I used to fantasize about leaping over the cubicle wall and just elbow-dropping her, pro-wrestling style.

We've all had that dream, I think.

This guy lives it:

It's almost definitely fake. As one YouTube commenter points out, security cameras don't record sound. Probably fake, but real enough to be awesome.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Lost Cell Phone

I just got back from a nightmare trip to BWI (Baltimore Washington International airport), and managed to lose my cell phone while I was lost and wandering around Northeast D.C. looking for directions. This sucks.

Most of you that read this are my friends in some capacity, and have given me your phone numbers. If you are so inclined, please contact me via MySpace (click the Tron picture on the right) and share your numbers again. Or, just e-mail me.

Or, just leave your e-mail address and telephone number in the comments section. That should be a smart move that will work out great for EVERYBODY.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Ice Cream Lessons

Daro and Pop-Pop, Summer 2004
Originally uploaded by chinese_fashion.
Today was Nature's apology for the spitting ice all over the place for the last few weeks. People in downtown D.C. were out on the sidewalks at lunchtime in full effect. Everyone was striding around and trying to look all important in their suits and "business casual" attire, punching away at their Blackberries in the sun and dreaming of chucking the whole lot into the storm sewer and just skipping work. It was ice cream weather, first we've had all year.

I stood in line at the sandwich shop, looking at the ice cream counter and crying my eyes out. Every time I think about ice cream, I think about my grandparents, who taught me the importance of eating it myself and sharing it with others. My grandparents have more cones behind them that they have to look forward to -- as mentioned before, my grandpa's got diabetes and congestive heart failure, and his kidneys are slacking on the job. My grandma's doing awesome for ninety-four, but ... she's ninety-four. Every day is gift and for her, tomorrow is not a promise.

My grandparents are going to be gone soon. It's both completely normal and utterly fucked up and in case this is not immediately obvious, I'm having a hard time with it. I was kind of embarrassed at first, crying like that in the sandwich line, but then I decided to just let it go.

Shunryu Suzuki said in "Zen Mind, Beginner Mind" that stopping a ripple on a pond only causes more waves. I think. I read Suzuki in college, back when I bleached my hair blond, wore overalls and listened to a lot of free jazz. A lot's changed since then.

So I stood there, ordering a turkey on wheat through a face full of tears, just losing it. And then I remembered: I am trying, consciously, to write more paper letters. I've all but stopped using the mail, and it's kind of a shame. I love getting letters from people, real ones, and I really miss it. So I'm trying to revive the habit.

Especially to my grandparents. I want them to know how special they are to me, what an incredible impact they've had on my life, and I'd rather give them this ahead of time than deliver a fantastic eulogy later. So I pulled out a Sharpie and a legal pad, and wrote them a letter about ice cream, and why they'll always be associated with it in my mind.

It took a long time. I sat on a park bench in the sun, a grown man writing, eating, periodically bawling while a city full of suits streamed past talking about policy, briefs and whitepapers and totally ignoring me. Better that way, but weird all the same.

And now that I've written that letter and gone through those tears, I feel completely drained, but a little better. I'm going to sleep now, and when I wake up I'm going to send this thing, just as soon as I find a stamp.

I've typed that letter up and posted it below, if you're so inclined. I feel kind of weird about it, telling the whole world like this. But ultimately, I want people to know how great my grandparents are to me, and I want to be able to click back, six months from now and read this and remember this day, too ... over and over again.

Dear Daro and Pop-Pop,

I'm on my lunch break, standing in a sandwich line and staring at the ice cream case, thinking of you both. I think about you both a lot lately, and this ice cream is amplifying it, because I can't look at ice cream without remembering two very, very wonderful experiences, both of which you created.

Pop-Pop, I can remember when I first learned how to eat an ice cream cone. I think we were at the mall, and at that moment, I had only ever had ice cream out of a bowl, with a spoon and someone nearby with a lot of napkins. I'd seen people on TV eating cones, seen older kids and grownups with them, but never had one of my own. I was incredibly excited, to say the least. I can remember you handing me that cone and me taking it in both of my little hands -- it was so HUGE -- and then having no idea what to do with it. I think I just started biting it from the top down, kinda like an apple. Man -- if you thought I needed napkins before ... I think I actually got ice cream in both ears.

You said "No, not like that. Like this," and then paused. As a diabetic, demonstrating how to eat the cone would have been risky. "Lick the sides," you said. I did, bottom to top. "NO, around it," you explained. I tried, but made a bigger mess. You thought for a minute, evaluating the risk against the importance of the lesson. Then you said "here, let me show you," and took the cone. You quickly, patiently showed me how to lick a circle around the cone, how to head off all the drips, how to take little bites off the top, and how to nibble the cone away, biting the bottom tip off and sucking the last bit of melted ice cream through the hole. Somehow you managed to show me this without eating the whole thing yourself. Every time I eat an ice cream cone, and sometimes when I don't, I remember that lesson. I hope I get to turn right around and teach it to someone small one day.

Daro -- do you remember Tilfred? He lived next door to you, and he was such a little pill. He tackled too hard and yelled too much, threw toys in the air and was quick to ball up his fists and use them. One afternon, me and you and Jess hand-cranked peach ice cream together and you let us invite one friend each over for dessert.

I picked Paul from two doors over. I certainly did not invite Tilfred. Nevertheless, as we all sat down and you scooped soft, sticky peach ice cream into our bowls, there was a knock at the door. It was Tilfred, who said "my babysitter said I could come and eat peach ice cream with y'all after dinner." You invited him in and told him to get himself a bowl out of the cabinet.

This kind of blew my little mind. You'd taught me that it wasn't nice to invite yourself places, and told me just that day that ice cream was for well-behaved children. That same day, Tilfred had thrown two of my Star Wars guys and one of my flip-flops into the oak tree out front AND invited himself over after supper. And here you were, rewarding the behavior with ice cream! I just shrugged, figuring the world had gone completely crazy, and handed Tilfred a spoon.

You knew then something it has taken me years to figure out: Sometimes all jerks like Tilfred need is someone to be nice to them ... then they can stop being such jerks. Tilfred was never my best friend after that, but he did stop hitting me quite so much. 24 years later, your example is still a tough act to follow, but I'm going to teach it one day, too.

I've got to get back to work now, but please know that I love you both more than I can possibly explain. And despite all appearances, I actually was paying attention to you ...



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Did You Just Put That In Your Mouth?

Brenda Hughes of Savannah, GA was accused of throwing acid on her neighbors in an alleged hate crime. She claims she didn't do it, and even has a special t-shirt that proclaims her innocence. And, even if she did do it, the acid wouldn't have hurt anyone, she asserts, proving it on the TV news by putting some in her mouth. Have a look:

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Fight Club for Sweaty Cupcakes

hostess experiment 012
Originally uploaded by kim in color.
"Cardio boxing" class is only marginally more like real boxing than a round of 'Mike Tyson's Punch-Out.' Still, it's a decent workout. It feels more real than watching TV on the elliptical or "spinning" class, which is essentially a game of make-believe in a dark little room with incredibly shitty house musinc for a soundtrack. "We're approaching logs on our mountain path," the instructor calls out. "Turn your resistance up and power of those logs while I turn the music up ... this part is so rockin'!"

But back to boxing class. Ridiculous as it is, I go. And I've gotten to where I look forward to sweating onto squeaky-clean wooden floors in a room full of synthetic tough guys. I spend my days silently in cubicle, dreaming of kicking someone's ass without opportunity or skill to deliver on the dream. I've gotten good at throwing punches in a controlled environment without having the slightest idea how to do it in real life. Boxing class is to me what a wheel is to a caged rat: nowhere near to close, but the best thing going.

The first few times are terrible -- you're sweating and heaving for breath and the gloves are like millstones tied to your wrists. "My god," I always think, "I am getting my ass kicked by an invisible person that is not even hitting back." The invisible opponent always pummels my Fight Club fantasy pretty good.

My partner last week was new to the class. And without wanting to be overly cruel, it seemed like it was his first trip to a gym, period.

Usually, I'm into that. I like seeing people making a fresh start, going for a personal best. And usually, I love an underdog. Like any adult worth being around, I was picked on in gym class during my formative years. Seeing normal people, dorks like me taking the gym back usually gets me stoked.

Not this time.

This guy, he was awful. Awful at the class, awful as a partner. His punches were like Hostess sno-balls on a hot day, limp and sticky little things that fell short of the mitts. Like he was applying gold leaf to my mitts with each whining grunt. His hips swivelled and jerked rhythmically while he swung a limp series of uppercuts, hooks, jabs. Richard Simmons may be the only other man to to bring that sort of hip motion into a fitness environment. He was even bad at holding the mitts while I punched, fliching and dropping them so much that it threw my rhythm off, inspiring the instructor to bark at me. He flopped and sweated, gut heaving beneath his soaked shirt. His ponderous pigeon impression was giving him a workout but leaving me sweatless.

And the thing is, in case you haven't noticed: I really resented the guy for it. Who was this guy, crapping up my workout, bringing this effete, pathetic indifference to the whole thing? I mean, it's not like he would have gotten detention for leaving. The frustration built, blossoming into anger. I swung harder, hit faster, secretly hoping I could tag this guy in the face.

What is it about pathetic people? Why is it that the desire to help someone out is layered on TOP of the desire to just crush someone? There was something about this guy, something simpering and sad that I just wanted to grind under my heel, to smack and splatter like a mosquito fat with blood. I swear, I have no idea how professional therapists and counselors deal with people who are yes, hurting and in need of help, but also so crying out to be crushed by Darwin's hammer.

And in that class, in that particular moment, I totally understood the bullies that used me for sport when I was a kid. I was a gawky dude with glasses and ZERO interest in sports. Add a short temper and no patience for idiots to that mix, and you've got someone who's going to explode fabulously and predictably every time. Kids are dumb, every last one of them, and patient self-control is not something they aspire to. It must have been so AWESOME for those mouth-breathing bozos to bounce a kickball off of my head.

In that moment, in that frustration with that simpering, sweaty sack in front of me, I understood some old demons and was able to make a long-delayed peace with myself. Jesus himself said "Love your enemies," and in that moment, I did, and I could feel my heart expanding to encompass the whole world. I understood bullies past and future, and understood the guy in front of me a little better -- we're just two schlubs who want physiques far better than the ones we get from our sedentary little lives. Even if his workplace dreams involved ice skates and perfect pirouettes and mine involve blood and concrete, we're more similar than different. This expansion and understanding, it felt magnificent.

But pulling my fist back after the bell and hitting the his mitt with thundering thwack, jolting that sweaty cupcake off-balance ... I have to say that felt pretty awesome, too. And now I understand why.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Having Some Beers, Doing Some Witchcraft

Breaking the Spell
Originally uploaded by chinese_fashion.
This post is part 3 of an ongoing series. Click to read the first and second installments.

The Santero's message said, simply "I'm going to be having some beers later and doing some witchcraft if you want to come over. All that stuff is too much for the phone."

It must be said: his apartment is beautiful. I think that when most people think of Santeria (or Voodoo), they picture squalid little huts, dark apartments with blood on the wall, feathers on the floor, maybe a couple giant heaps of newspaper in the corner. Nothing could be further from the reality of the Santero's crib.

The house is filled with art and artifacts, including personally constructed fetishes that represent each Orisha. No one fetish looks the same from house to house, but with a little study, one can tell one Orisha from another pretty easily. For example, Yemaya's colors are blue and white, aquatic colors that represent the ocean -- the source and symbol of her vast power.

So if you're in a Santero's house looking at a large blue-and white vessel of some sort with a woman's face on the front, adorned with beads and candles: you've got Yemaya dead in your sights.

I can't tell, exactly, but these objects, essentially found-object 3-D collages, are either gateways to the Orisha, or physical manifestations of the Orisha itself. I like that a lot. When I was in college, I was really into power figures from the Congo as well as the art of Voodoo and Santeria.

I like that practitioners of these religions actually, literally build their deities, that it takes sweat and love and a keen eye to make that gateway to God -- or Gods. From a Christian perspective, man is created in God's image. This does not so much mean that God has legs and underarm hair as it means that people are meant to create stuff the way that God created us.

And trust me, I'm using the term 'created' loosely here. To say that we were put here by some magical freaking thunderbolt and fossils are meant to test our faith is just ridiculous. I like believing in a higher power that created science, set the ball rolling and learned to love the results a lot more than I like thinking that we are the product of a deity that made dinosaur bones just to fuck with us.

Most of my beef with the Christianity I was raised under is aesthetic. My mom and grandparents, aunt and uncle and the minister at my childhood church are all generous, loving and productive people, and they take their faith seriously. It's just that most of the worship services I've been to are so flat and passionless that when it's over you're not really sure that it happens.

I know that I like the Church of gospel and shouting, of clapping and barking in tongues, of building the things you worship with instead of doing a drive-by once a week and having some hard old cookies after. Life, death, love and happiness aren't boring. Why does worshiping them have to be?

But before this high horse I'm in rides off into the sunset, I have to bring it back to the Santero's apartment. We were sitting there, me, the Santero, and my friend Lola, having a few Budweisers and talking. Santeria music played in the background and this little dog Lola was babysitting just kind of wandered around being real cute. Then the Santero excused himself and stepped into the corner, lit a few candles and chanted, said some stuff in Yoruba and Spanish and threw four pieces of coconut shell on the floor.

He came back, saying "Eleggua says that he will talk to everyone in this house. That includes you (nodding to me). The oracle is open. Think of what you have to ask him, and let's talk. You don't have to start immediately, just form it in your mind before you ask. But ask tonight."

The Santero explained that you can only ask Eleggua yes-or-no questions. No life or death stuff, just concrete, everyday things. The Santero helped shape my questions into ones that Eleggua could answer right there in the living room. This was a little weird to me. Not the whole talking to a voodoo god, but the fact that Eleggua himself was essentially standing in the corner right over by the front door, and here we were standing in the living room talking like he couldn't hear us. Once I figured out my line of questioning, I stepped over to Eleggua.

This is what the Orisha looks like in that particular apartment:


It was right then, when I was standing in front of the Santero being anointed with four pieces of coconut shell that I got a little scared. The phrase "Thou shalt have no other Gods before me" definitely ran through my head a million times, real, real fast. Was I about to step across a thin little line and condemn myself to hell?

Then I thought about it. Eleggua is, essentially, the one who is covered when we say "God works in mysterious ways," and he's ONLY that. He's part of a bigger, more confusing whole, and this was a pretty good way to focus on one aspect of the entire universe. I like that about Santeria -- it breaks a power that we can barely comprehend down into smaller chunks, powerful beings that have certain specialties. Kind of like the Avengers or the Justice League, to be completely flip about it. But it's all the same thing, and the energy all goes the same place.

I can't tell you what I asked. It would be disrespectful and turn everything pear-shaped. And I certainly can't tell you what Lola and the Santero asked Eleggua a) because it would be even more disrespectful, and b) because it was done entirely in Spanish, a language I do not speak.

I can tell you this, though. After the Santero asked a question and threw the coconuts, his eyes widened along with Lola's. Then he said "Okay then," and marched across the room to dismantle Yemaya. "We're going outside," he said.

The main vessel that forms Yemaya contained shells, stones and a large amount of ocean water. Apparently, that ocean water had absorbed a lot of negative energy and needed to be poured out immediately. The Santero was pouring it onto the dead doves to eliminate the last vestiges of the broken curse and fully wash it away. So, we stood out in the road last Friday, around midnight, holding out hands over the dead doves while the Santero poured ocean water out of Yemaya, over our hands and onto those poor dead doves, chanting in Spanish. Here's a photo:

Washing the Spell Away

At one point the Santero turned his head, mid-chant, shouting something in Spanish at a nearby van. Its occupants looked curious, to say the least. "What did he just shout" I asked. "He said 'Go home, motherfuckers, I'm doing witchcraft'" Lola replied.

We went back inside. "Sit, talk to Eleggua," the Santero said. Lola and I sat in front of the fetish. "Just pray," she explained, "focus your thoughts and let them flow out of you. He'll pick it up."

The Santero lit a cigar and turned it backwards, carefully placing the ember into his mouth. He blew hard, blowing clouds of smoke all over Eleggua. It made perfect sense to me, and I slipped into my own mind, pushing out fear and doubt, letting it hang there. It was nice.

Then the Santero took a large swig of rum from a bottle by Eleggua and spat it all over him. He took another large swig and spat the rum on Lola, then gave me a good spraying, too.

"What was THAT about," I whispered to Lola. "To get Eleggua tipsy," she whispered behind a hand. "It make him talk to us more, tell us more stuff."

She and the Santero resumed talking to Eleggua out loud, and again, I have no idea what they said. I got my answers, though, and I can honestly say that I feel pretty blessed.

The night ended, finally, and I went to bed. Don't get the wrong idea. I'm not ready to convert or anything. But at a time when I needed answers, guidance, something to hang my soul on, I got it. It brought me closer to two great people and I had one of the deepest, most fulfilling experiences that I've ever had, and I feel calmer, more relaxed. That's got to count for something.

I'm not done here, either. Eleggua was kind enough to talk to me, even though I'm an outsider. He took me into his house and treated me well. I'm not ungrateful for that, either, so I offered him a small gift in return. He accepted, understanding that it may take me a few days to get the gift together. Now I've got it sorted out.

So, sometime after work this week, I'm going to run a little errand, then drop by the Santero's place and leave my offering to Eleggua.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Brujeria: Son of the Pirate Witch Queen

This post is part 2 of an ongoing series. Click to read the first and third installments.

Those dirty white doves lying by the curb alongside three little samurai hats made of coconut, their car-flattened heads some distance away -- they're not just some sick coincidence, a bored metalhead's idea of art or a Hot Topic teen's notebook dream rendered real. According to my neighbor, they're part of a spell meant to discredit him in the DC Santeria community and rob him of some of his prominence and prestige.

We stood out in the road together Friday night, six beers deep into the evening as he explained, flicking the dead doves around with a stick. "This is sloppy work, too," he said. "Amateur shit. This is some poorly hidden amateur shit and an embarrassment to everyone who practices Santeria. The spell was broken the second I laid eyes on this, and it should have been hidden better ... in the bushes at least, or wrapped in some brown paper and then hidden where nobody could find it."

According to my friend (who must remain nameless), someone else in the community is jealous of him and his standing. He believes this is an Anakin and Obi-Wan situation, an old former friend resentful of his spiritual growth, his influence over new initiates, and his role as an elder. If he is correct, the perpetrator of this spell owns a popular Botanica, a voodoo supply store that initiates new members into Santeria. Apparently, she charges for her services and for supplies.

"I don't make any money off this myself. It's my religion. I have my career as a network engineer and that's separate. This is my life, my spirituality and to her, it's her business, and I'm taking her customers."

He adds "This was confirmed to me by both my Orisha and my high priest. That bitch wants to knock me down, to see me fail."

Obatala 2

That's only part of the reason that there are two dead headless dove lying in the road by my house, in a direct line of sight from the friendly Santero's apartment. There's more. An offering of doves is an offering to Obatala, the owner of all heads who is always dressed in all white. See, the perpetrator of this spell was ordained under Yemaya, mother goddess and creator of the world, same as my neighbor.

Since they both have the same guardian angel, a direct attack via spells cast on the spiritual plane would harm both parties. By appealing to Obatala, the attacker hopes to knock off my friend's "crown", or cause him to publicly embarrass himself and lose status.


"Yemaya, she is the creator and the destroyer," my Santero friend elaborated. "She's a caring mother but defends her children like a she-wolf, like a grizzly bear or something. Yemaya Okoto is a pirate witch queen who defends her children by rampage, and that's the the aspect I come under. Eleggua told her to go ahead with this spell, but he brought this to me through you, and now he's told me to do what I need to do to defend myself." He paused for a moment, looking into the sky, then continued, saying "Really, this is all so wonderful and it just reaffirms my faith in Santeria. This is so amazing, such a beautiful display of Eleggua's power. I feel so blessed right now."

Eleggua is the Santeria trickster-god, and, according to Wikipedia "plays frequently tempting choices for the purpose of causing maturation."

"See here," my neighbor said, "look at the coconut shells here, by the doves. It's the divination she threw before she left the sacrifice ... see how the whites are facing up? That's a 'yes,' from Eleggua, he's telling her to go ahead, but he's bringing you past these birds yesterday and having you e-mail me about it after we hadn't even talked for a whole year. That's random as hell, man, and that's Eleggua for you, especially considering how we even met, man."

It's true. I met my neighbor because he's the best friend (and spiritual godfather) to a woman I met on Myspace about a year ago. We went out on a few dates and then it sort of fizzled, more due to work, timing, and baggage on my part than anything else. I 'friended' my Santero neighbor last year and then fell out of touch with him and her, although I had no negative feelings.

I can't say that I'm converting to Santeria anytime soon, but the fact that we all met last year and then I happened to see these dead doves in the road a year later and be moved to photograph them and e-mail them ... it's pretty staggering. I remain an open-minded skeptic, but I can honestly say that I've felt Eleggua's power firsthand.

After many divinations, many questions asked of the oracles and many coconut shells thrown, it all comes down to this. My friend the Santero is the victim of a vicious spiritual attack by an enemy who was willing to perform a blood sacrifice to see him fail. By discovering the sacrifice and alerting him, I was the agent of the Santeria trickster-god Eleggua. Once he saw the sacrifice itself, the spell was broken.

My friend will retaliate, and nothing's going to stop him. He's not telling how or when, only that "a shield is built and the divination said that the situation is 'an eye for an eye.'"

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Friday, March 02, 2007

When the Doves Die

This post is part 1 of an ongoing series. Click to read the second and third installments.

It rained on the last of the snow this morning, getting rid of the nasty slush but making a much nastier mess in the meantime.

Me my friend were walking around Adams-Morgan in the rain talking about nasty old snow. Like that one gross black clump you find under an abandoned car in like, June, and you think "DAG -- how is that still even there?" Then we came across one tenacious chunk of dirty white slush. "That's really hanging on there," he said, and we went to investigate the tough little lump by the curb.

Turns out it wasn't snow at all. It was two decapitated doves, tied together at the feet:

When the Doves Die

Two chunks of coconut lay nearby, along with the dove's heads themselves:

Dove Head

Now there's no getting around the fact that this is kind of nasty to me, as a middle-class cracker from Southern Virginia. Way nastier than some old black snow clump for sure. But it's not as creepy as it seems to the uninitiated. After the initial rush of heavy weirdness settled, I remembered. I live right next door to a powerful Santero, a high priest of Santeria, a form of voodoo widely practiced across Latin America. Animal sacrifice is a big part of their practice, see.

I sent my friend, the Santero neighbor the first photo above and asked him, "Dude, was that you?"

I'd done a little Googling and learned that Santeros were sacrificing doves to either heal or kill Castro last fall, depending on how they felt about him. Maybe that was it.

It wasn't. He didn't do it, he says, and he hadn't heard anything about the Castro thing. The ramifications are possibly more sinister.

According to what he told me, two doves are a sacrifice to Obatala, the father of peace but also the owner of all heads. If someone were to cast a spell over my Santero neighbor, they'd have to knock his spiritual "crown" off of his head. So he's going to look into this, as soon as he gets home from work.

It kinda gives me the creeps, all this animal sacrifice going on right outside my house. I'm all for religious freedom and freedom of expression, and I do eat meat ... but still. I mean, somebody threw two dead birds in the street out there, and they're still there right now, just kinda rotting.

On the other hand, pigeons and rats die in the road all the time and I'm used to it. If anything, those doves make for more interesting roadkill than the grey feathered leather we usually get here. And those doves, they mean a lot to a lot of people.

Overall, I'm pretty excited at the situation. There's a good chance that I am living in the crossfire of an escalating epic battle between two Latin voodoo priests, and how cool is THAT? A bunch of kids came skipping down the street this afternoon, passing a basketball and yelling "y'all play too much" with high spirits and they passed right over that vicious little offering. They moved right through the spiritual warzone, laughing, happy and unharmed.

I just got an email from my friend, who says "I plan to investigate via divination what this all means. and if it is an attack on me, then I am off to war. I have a few enemies in the community, that because of ego do not want anyone to prosper and my house happens to be growing, meaning I just initiated 2 more people into santeria last week..."

All it took was one look in the gutter to see something nasty and fantastic, incredible evidence that the world is full of mysterious magic. It's all around us, propping up our humdrum lives in ways we barely understand and no matter how it seems at the surface, it's pretty cool to know it's there even if you don't completely believe in it yourself.

There's more to this story. Click here to see what the doves mean.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

He Was Also Charged With Damage to a Mini-Bar

Originally uploaded by Victoria Reay.
I love stories where things go completely off the rails -- where events just pile up and pile up and the next thing you know, the newspaper is printing a sentence like this:

McCarney was found in the room wearing a latex suit and handcuffs, the key to which the donkey is believed to have swallowed.

You can find the rest of the story (found via BoingBoing) here, and it pretty much tells itself. On the one hand it's a sad tale of a sick and lonely man with a very, very unfortunate hangup. His donkey's not in much better shape, either. But on the other: holy crap.

Imagine the conversations the guy had to explain himself, the look on the night manager's face when someone told him what was happening in all seriousness. I'd like to hear Mr. McCarney's side of the story, a plain, ordinary explanation of how one man ends up in a hotel with a donkey.

You don't really get anywhere without taking little baby steps, and I'd love to hear how he crossed that line. One person's black and white line is another's broad, grey field.

And in one way or another it happen to everyone, all the time: you linger too long on the far side of the playground, over near the dark woods. Then a twig snaps and you look up to see that it's getting dark and everyone's gone home for dinner -- and the sky is flat and heavy, the color of dark charcoal.

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