Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Nurse the Hate: The Woman In The Uniform

Sylvia has two unusual qualities that make her a bit of an outcast.  First, she likes to dress in uniforms which she purchases at thrift stores and then carefully modifies them to remove any organizational tie.  At first glance, she appears to be a park ranger or scout leader of some kind.  For example, yesterday she wore lovingly shined vintage brown leather boots that came to her mid-calf.  Khaki pants billowed from her thighs like she was a lion tamer.  Tucked into the pants was a neutral tan button down shirt with amulets.  The look was topped off with a neckerchief and a flat-topped kepi style cap like worn by Charles de Gaulle.  This is not a look shared by many women in their late 20s and tends to make others nervous.  Young boys scatter when they see her, assuming she is an authority figure of some type.  Sylvia never seems to notice her effect on others and maintains a slight smile like she has just remembered a private amusing story.

Sylvia has a proclivity to spend hours upon hours wandering graveyards.  She can be seen tramping around any cemetery of historical interest, usually carrying a cloth satchel where she keeps her supplies to make her etchings.  On a good day, she must be able to make dozens of etchings.  She appears to be particularly interested in gothic tablet stone designs, but this only my opinion based on casual observation and not one she ever shared with me.  I often notice her walking great distances around town in her various uniforms, almost always alone.  It appeared she had a friend from the Art Institute that liked to accompany her from time to time and take photographs, but she must have graduated as I can’t recall seeing her in the last couple of years.

I met Sylvia when she sat next to me at a restaurant with an extensive vegan menu.  She placed her satchel on the stool next to me and was slightly humming as she glanced at the menu.  I thought she was in some type of youth corps based on her outfit until it hit me she had no insignia of any kind.  When the waiter came over she asked a series of very deliberate questions about many of the vegan options on the menu.  She finally ordered a cheeseburger eliciting a frown from the guy behind the counter.  I couldn’t help but ask, “You didn’t care for the vegan options?”.  She turned towards me with the slight bemused smile and said, “I don’t like vegan food very much.”  Well, why did you ask about the menu options in such great detail?  “I like to know stuff.” she answered. 

That would have been my opportunity to ask about why she was wearing a uniform, but her food arrived before I could get into it.  She happily dug into the burger, swaying her head back and forth slightly as she continued the almost imperceptible humming.  She almost radiated joy.  It made me recall a conversation I heard once between a doctor and patient in a movie.  The patient said "Doctor, I just haven't been happy lately.".  The doctor looked at the patient for a moment's pause and said "You know, there's a large section of the population that is never happy.  Maybe you need to enjoy the periods in which you are happy a little more and try to better get through the periods where you aren't."  It's a grim diagnosis but probably realistic.  Yet somehow this young woman in her costume clothes had figured it out.  She always appears happy and with purpose.

Maybe there is something to the idea of wearing a modified costume every day.  In the beginning, every day would seem like Halloween.  I think you couldn't help but feel self-conscious.  Then you would slowly forget you were wearing a 1920s looking Mexican Federales uniform and it would transition into "your look".  The risk is that one day you wake up and find yourself to be working as an aging clerk in a store while looking like a pirate in comfortable trainers, sort of like Keith Richards on a budget.

There was a man I met in Stuttgart once that went to a Daredevils show, Frau Schmutz.  He lived a very meager life in a small apartment.  He would save his money to attend two or three live events a month adorned in special clothes he made himself.  It was noteworthy that his clothes in this case were assless chaps and a sparkly gold skin tight t-shirt.  It wasn't festish wear so much as his own idea of a personal style.  He was completely ambivalent about other people remarking on his skinny pale exposed ass and mocking his appearance.  He liked what he liked and could not care less about expectation or social norms.  When we played, he danced right up front, 100% focused on the music.  He gave himself totally to the experience.

I had heard Frau Schmutz died earlier this year alone in his apartment, surrounded by the racks of clothes he had made himself.  He had attended a live music event just days earlier, and by all accounts, had a great time.  He lived on his terms, regardless of how out of step they were with the prevailing trends.  In a way, he might have been one of the most "punk rock" people I have ever met.  It takes a special person to walk their own path, especially when that path is controversial. 

Today I will keep an eye out for Sylvia.  The weather is favorable to make some nice etchings.  I suspect she will have a small secret smile as she steps out the door today, resplendent in whatever homemade uniform she has chosen.  People dismiss her as "weird" or at best "a character", but it seems like she might have something figured out.       


Monday, July 15, 2019

Nurse the Hate: The Employment Dilemma

There was a friend of mine that recently sent me a photo from inside the White House that he took while at work.  His job carries across into doing work associated with the current administration along the lines of PR and Event Planning.  While he is a bit more ambivalent about politics than I am, I would think the extreme racist views taken by this administration would at least dampen the normally exciting experience of being at the White House.  Then again, I am sure there were all kinds of worker bees that were excited to be doing gigs for Hitler.  Think about all those banners hanging at the Nuremberg Rallies.  There had to be a company that produced and hung them.  Too bad there wasn’t social media back then of a photo of Otto the banner sales guy taking a selfie with Hitler in the distance.  “Say what you want about his views, but Uncle Adolf knows how to throw a rally!  #Nuremberg #rallytime #greattobehere”

At a certain point, financial success often leads to the hexing crossroad of personal beliefs versus money.  Would I work on the Hitler re-election campaign?  No, but then again, no one has asked me and dangled out a hefty paycheck.  I like to think I am a man with a firm moral compass, but then again, I have demonstrated a certain moral flexibility when times got a little murky.  “Hey, I know Hitler has some problems with the Jews and gypsies, but that’s all just talk to get his base riled up.  Plus, if I don’t sell him these banners, someone else will anyway.  You should have seen all the shrimp they had in the VIP lounge!  They gave me preferred parking too!”

I just finished a great novel yesterday, “Leaving the Atocha Station” by Ben Lerner.  The novel is about a poet that feels like a fraud that is doing a fellowship in Spain.  I have to say, being a poet on a fellowship in Spain sounds like a much better job than clapping politely while the highest elected official in our nation spews racism.  I can visualize myself writing questionable poetry and trying to provide oblique answers to thoughtful questions about my art.  In a way, it’s a natural lateral move from my rock singer/sales current lifestyle.   How hard can it be to write a passable poem? 

Seven green bottles
The relief of sunset
The aching hours
Devour to the husk
The rusty lightning rod
The shivering pain
And again

I wrote that in 14 seconds.  That at least looks like a poem.  All I need is one person to suggest, “this guy needs a fellowship” and I am on my way.  Sure, I will know I am a fraud, but I already think that anyway.  The last thing anyone needs is another poet with too much confidence.  First, no one reads poetry.  No one.  Second, a poet that believes they are important while their art form is elusive and unpopular is a dangerous combination.  When the overconfident poet fails to make any impact, the poet believes that he is already elevated into a stratosphere above the common man who cannot understand his complexity and therefore all criticism is unwarranted.  It’s like when a bunch of horrible metal bands hang out together and convince themselves they are awesome despite plain evidence to the contrary.

As a result, as a poet with a fellowship in Spain, I could saunter around immune to criticism and hang out with a small group of aficionados that think I am a big deal because I am on the fellowship in the first place.  “Is he good?”  He must be!  He’s on a fellowship!  This is infinitely better than smiling politely while the leader in our supposed democracy talks about “round ups” and “sending them back where they came from”, though the money is not good in poetry as I understand it.  It’s a bit of a quandary. 

Ultimately, I will start on a new book today and “Leaving the Atocha Station” will slowly fade from memory.  The bad news is that the new book is a translated French novel from Michel Houellebecq, so I will probably morph into some kind of half-assed provocateur smoking Gauloises and talking at length about the Vichy as I offer up dismissive arguments about nothing.  It shouldn’t be a far swing from my poetry fellowship dreams and is certainly much better than working for an Authoritarian Goon, though once again the pay will be subpar.  Eh?  Que pouvez-vous faire?  

Friday, July 12, 2019

Nurse the Hate: Flat Stanley

I was in North Carolina for about 17 hours last weekend.  I was called “Sweet Pea” and “Darlin” by strangers, which is one of the main indicators that you are in The South.  (The other is being served sweet tea without being asked.)  I am not sure why I find this good cheer off putting somehow.  The foreign concept of random kindness makes me uneasy.  It is probably my East Coast Irish Catholic upbringing.  While I am being met with that sugary smile, I immediately flash to the idea of the surprisingly affordable Remington Model 870 Express Hardwood Pump-Action shotgun with Federal LE Tactical Flite Control 12-Gauge 2 ¾ Buck 9 Pellet shells, allegedly the most effective form of suicide possible with the least “agony factor” as per lostallhope.com, a leading online voice on efficiently ending your life.  I think in North Carolina you can walk almost anywhere with such a weapon but using it indoors in a folksy coffee shop is likely frowned upon, so I ordered coffee instead. 

Everyone around me in the oh-so-cutely named “Busy Bean” coffee shop was smiling and happy.  I don’t know their secret.  I was struggling with the after effects of too many Pabst.  The following exchange happened.  “What can I get for YOU sweet pea?”  How about a double espresso?  “Let me fix you right up there Darlin’!”  She rang up the total on the register.  I handed her my credit card.  “Let me get this done and hand it right back to you!  I’m not going to keep it… I’m not your wife!”  Caught up in the runaway train of good cheer, I countered.  “Not yet you’re not Darlin!”  We shared a big fake laugh.

I felt like I had done my part in this play.  The woman behind the counter seemed pleased and smiled as she prepped my coffee.  It made me feel hollow though, like a cheap Hollywood set.  Out of the blue, I recalled a story from my second-grade reading book, “How It Is Nowadays”.  I don’t remember much from second grade except the title of my reader and that my friend Michael Schultz shit his pants during art class in what can be described as “an unfortunate incident”.  The reader was pure 1970s with a flamingo on the cover that in retrospect might have been an homage to the music and lifestyle of Pablo Cruise.  There were no stories about flamingos in that book that I can recall.  I do remember one story vividly though.  That story was called “Flat Stanley”, a tale of a boy that was run over by a steam roller and not only survived but thrived.

Flat Stanley, at first ostracized due to being essentially a cardboard cutout, later was not only accepted but celebrated.  Once Flat Stanley demonstrated how he could slip underneath doors and do things the other children could not, he was popular and filled with self esteem.  Even as a seven-year-old, I recognized this as a riff on the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer theme of “differences in appearance should not separate us, so be nice to kids of different ethnicities and social class”.  It also reinforced the idea presented in Looney Toons cartoons that steamrollers were harmless beyond altering your basic form.  Sure, you were flattened, but otherwise tip-top.

That story stuck with me for some reason.  Is it really as simple as it appears?  Could the children’s author also be suggesting that to thrive in modern times one needed to be two-dimensional, that to be a rounded individual was dangerous to the group?  I wonder if there was an intentional idea to suggest that Stanley did not fit in as a normal boy, so he needed the present to the world a simplified persona.  By becoming smaller, Stanley was able to gain acceptance with his peers.  This can be looked at as subversively trying to control children’s minds by limiting their drive to becoming unique individuals that might ask dangerous questions.  Maybe the author's intention is not that dark and authoritarian.  Perhaps it is more of a warning.  The idea could be that Stanley thrived by presenting to the world a simple two-dimensional persona but underneath it still maintained his true identity by keeping it hidden behind his appearance.  The message of the story could be argued that limited individuality is possible but needs to be carefully concealed from the others, despite the broad stroke theme of the story appearing to be the opposite.  Not just a simple children’s story, Flat Stanley can be argued to be a work of depth.  This is especially true in that it was presented to a group of seven year old readers that still potentially shit themselves without warning.  I certainly took more from Flat Stanley than I did from my later slog in high school through Herman Melville’s “Billy Budd”.

The coffee was briskly served to me on the counter.  “Are you sure there’s nothing else I can do for you Honey Pie?”  You’ve already done too much.  “Hahahaha!  You have a super day, OK now?”  I took my coffee and walked outside, the screen door shutting behind me, effectively rescuing me from further theater.  I waited for my Uber and thought about Flat Stanley.              

Monday, July 8, 2019

Nurse the Hate: Thoughts On The All-Star Game

The MLB All Star Game hoopla is in Cleveland this week.  Yesterday a stadium full of people watched a “celebrity” softball game that included such luminaries as actress Stephanie Beatriz, Mike “The Miz” Mizanin, Colton Underwood, Jerry Lorenzo, Priah Ferguson, and Annual AA.  (No, I don’t know who any of those people are either…)  I suppose it would have been a pleasant day to drink $10.50 Bud Lights in the sunshine, but it might have been even nicer if you weren’t at a baseball stadium being pummeled by corporate sponsor messages.

Tonight, is the Home Run Derby where MLB stars crush batting practice pitch home runs and the announcers struggle to make it seem like something is really happening.  This is a wildly popular event, though I have no idea why.  It’s much worse on TV having to suffer through Chris Berman saying “Back! Back! Back!  Back!  Back!” over and over again as MLB players do what they do and crush bunny pitches.  Chris Berman might not even do the announcing any longer as I haven’t watched it in years.  I imagine that the rest of the country got sick of his schtick at some point too, but then again people love “America’s Got Talent”, super hero movies, and nacho fries, so that’s not a given. 

The game itself is on Tuesday.  From my memory the player introductions and pre-game festivities last longer than the actual game, which is a feat unto itself as most baseball games now routinely last 4.5 hours each.  There will be a maximum of nationalistic rituals of various war horse songs like “America the Beautiful” sung by tired former stars with tenuous ties to Cleveland (is Gerald LaVert still alive?) and probably a corporate placement of an artist baseball fans have never heard of singing the National Anthem.  “Ladies and gentleman, please welcome current chart-topping artists Marshmello and Bastille as they sing the National Anthem!”  Cut to video of a guy in a marshmallow costume head dancing around a couple turntables while some asshole raps over it as confused middle-aged white-collar corporate ticket holders ask each other “who is that?”.  Then a bunch of air force jets roar over and fireworks explode into the American Flag.  The disinterested Latin American players will try not to have their hamstrings tighten up from standing as they wait the ceremonies out.  USA!  USA!  USA!

Meanwhile all the local media coverage will reveal the true identity of NE Ohio.  Only in Cleveland is an event like this covered with the tone of “we don’t really deserve this, and I can’t believe it is happening!”.  No one seems to understand that it is imperative to act like you have been there before and belong.  It’s not in anyone’s best interest to say things like “Can you believe all the stars are HERE in Cleveland this week?” while practically jumping up and down at a Stephanie Beatriz sighting (whoever that is).  After the smoke clears, the talking heads will move onto statements like “We talked to many fans here and they all said they were pleasantly surprised by how nice it was here and how friendly the people are on the North Coast!”.  Do you think if this event was in Boston, or San Francisco, the local media would be excitedly telling viewers “People liked it here!  See!  We hoped they would, and they said they did!  Oh boy!”?  No way.  This tone makes the city come off like losers.  I just hope they work in the ubiquitous mentions of the Cleveland Orchestra and the Metroparks to solidify how wonderful life is here in NE Ohio.  Cleveland should take the Daredevils tongue in cheek motto and run with it; “Cleveland: Slightly Better Than You Expected”.

By Wednesday morning all the corporate carpet baggers, players and agents will have jetted off to their respective lairs.  The All-Star Game, completely meaningless, will have already been forgotten.  The City will pathetically await national praise that will not come.  The City Fathers will then gear up for the next corporate driven logofest and think, “This next one is The One!  After that, they will love us for sure!”.  Meanwhile, I will think about when I was a kid and went to the 1980 All Star game at the old Municipal Stadium with all my friends.  We bought tickets for under $20 and cheered on our favorite players.  I can’t remember if anyone sang the anthem and sure as hell there wasn’t a guy in a costume doing it or any military flyovers.  There wasn’t a sponsored activity area or sea of merchandise tents.  There was a pretty good baseball game though.  It’s a truism of baseball.  As the sport continues to gray, it reveals the most important fact of all.  Baseball was always better in the past and your memories are always sweeter than the present.