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The International Writers Magazine
: US Politics-Surviving on the Road
*Caution: This may be a work of fiction

When Doves Burn: Self-Immolation in the DNC
Phil Mershon goes fundraising for Kerry

“I would suggest a knife in the back.”
Rimbaud, explaining to Davy Crockett the preferred method of suicide


JUNE
'The future stinks. The present isn’t much cheerier. And the past is a pack of lies'.


Everything happens for no reason whatsoever. Cause and effect are superstitions of a less evolved era. Whatever you call God exists all the better to do us over for fun and profit; the sad thing being that given such a sorry state of affairs, God remains among the good guys compared to the rat-bastard Republican skull-fucks met by my colleagues and I this Summer, most of said skull-fucks embracing the logical contradiction and Manson mantra of such statements as “All life is sacred, from the first randy thought to long after cremation; hence, all terrorists must be annihilated, publicly humiliated, and pummeled in ways akin to the glorious holocaust.”

Boys and girls: wake up, and listen. The time for reactive liberalism has gone plunging down the turd pipes the other side—the smirking, sociopathic, inbreeding, evil side—slavers for your destruction and when that condition becomes inevitable—as it already has—how passive, sincere, forgiving and warm will you be when they come like a horde of rabid Reaganites to feast upon the flesh of your sons and daughters, their eyes watering over in orgiastic glee at the magnitude of the agony they get to inflict? This, friends and family, is the time of well-considered provocation, of inspired ridicule, of mean-spirited revenge in advance. The enemy lies fat and secure, snoozing in the corner, like Duncan the dumb ass.

As Spring wound down, I found myself scripting a horror-porno film called Liquid Sin. Brittany Murphy was to star as a beleaguered twenty-year-old who escapes the world’s problems by traveling to Aspen, on the outskirts of which she purchases and consumes a pre-opened package of chocolate-flavored X-Lax candies. Mistaking the laxative for a protein energy bar, she devours the bewitched contents immediately prior to ascending into the strident hills of Aspen. Once fully secluded, her bowels explode into a tributary of the Colorado River, the cool spring waters from whence Denali Bottle Water is manufacture. In short order, runners in the Rockies drinking Denali themselves transform into defecators of Liquid Sin and soon enough the entire bottled water industry is besieged by bacterially-induced M-80 compressions of chronic poison diarrhea. At long last, the President, played by Patrick Swayze, instructs furtive operative Brad Pitt to find and destroy every last liquid sin shitter, an adventure that culminates in a sexual liaison between Murphy and Pitt in which fluid feces becomes the fetish of choice.

As that idea never really caught fire, what I found instead at the Columbus, Ohio, field office of Grassroots Campaigns, an outsource engine of the Democratic National Committee, was a nice little group of people for whom I would quickly develop considerable fondness, people who believe in political solutions, who support the idea of beating Bush with a Kerry club, despite the fact that to this point, the Senator from Massachusetts continues to run on a record about as clear as a Chillicothe skyline. Most people know nothing about him, except that he stands for truth, justice, and the American free enterprise system. Personally, I don’t like the guy. Centrism empowers the right and alienates real Americans, like those of us on the left. College clearly muddled up Kerry’s thinking. Politics, he willfully fails to understand, is a visceral calling—a borborigmus, if you will—rather than an intellectual matter. This is, after all, the United States, not some well-reasoned terrorist state without borders, like, say, Halliburton.

Completely cold ass on the hot road broke, I sold all my non-essentials, along with truckloads of genuine necessities, all the better to make hasty retreat from Phoenix to Columbus, one step ahead of banks, hospitals, two ex-girlfriends, utility and cable companies, a dump truck load of grief over deceased parents, two leaps ahead of my landlord, and three dark shadows from AG Ashcroft and his pruney-lipped brown shirts. After a fifty hour drive, I cooled my motor in Ohio, where I met up with my old college chum. After two weeks sleeping in her guest room, I found myself the object of a precise analysis from this friend, who pointed out that—among other things—we weren’t in college any longer and that my abrupt change of locale was, to say the least, ill-advised. She was correct, of course, but that was hardly the point.

I interviewed with JK of Grassroots Campaigns on June 3rd, 2004, a Thursday, in a mass meeting of six potential supporters of the DNC’s war to win back the White House. During the one-on-one interview, he assured me I would be quickly promoted to Field Manager, although for the moment I was to serve as a canvasser for contributions, launching the largest financial attack in the party’s history. Politics is big business, so big that Presidential election campaigns run in four year increments that parallel the terms of office. Over two billion dollars will be squandered in the foregone conclusion culminating this year, and while there’s no longer a need in America to legitimize the anachronistic concept of pluralism, the myth of populism somehow endures, leaving we DNC folks with some manner of employment. While our office—a facility slightly smaller than a major league ballpark—quite properly demonizes George W. Bush, we also quite properly refer to John Kerry in only the most abstract of terms, such as “Truth for a Change” and “The Real Deal.” McDonald’s has nothing on us.

Meet JK. Fearless leader that he is, he candidly admits to voting for Bush in 2000. In the ensuing years, this Los Angeles transplant has clearly become a company man with more than a touch of big city savvy. He never complains about the miniature nature of local culture here compared to LA, probably because in the early days of our office, he and the assistant director, KB, have far too much work to do and haven’t yet noticed. And while K is a sincere populist, J occasionally blurts out his over-taxed sense of authority, such as occurred one afternoon about two weeks into our adventure. Near the end of a crisp lecture on ways several of us could improve our efficiency, J paused, allowing K to ask us if there we any criticisms we had of the office. Quick as a Hank Aaron homer, J snapped his head around and shouted, “That’s a stupid question!”

On my first day, ten of us set out in small groups to raise money with a plea that was, to be generous, difficult to memorize. Modestly, it seems, I raked in $75 from a combined total of five earnest contributors. K, whom I observed for a couple hours, is an energized liberal from Chicago by way of DC. To my ears, his delivery of the “rap” comes a bit fast, but Bush-haters will respond to anything. Even that first day we encountered shattered lives, hollowed-out houses, and contributors who were unemployed, yet willing to invest in their own salvation. My legs throbbed, I ached from dehydration, but compared to most of the day’s donors, I had it made.
By the second day’s end I was congratulating myself on the $161 I’d brought in when I read in that day’s paper that the Bush team intended to raise one half billion dollars to retain their regime. Not surprisingly, they are already half way there. One thing that helps them is Reagan’s death. Because the great communicator is at last engaging in direct confab with his satanic majesty, the Kerry people banned door-to-door soliciting on the third day, probably fearing a timely resurrection. As a consequence, JL and I found ourselves sent out to compete with the city’s finest panhandlers on the corner of High and Broad. There we stood, in the center of the central-most city of one of seventeen key swing states, quite probably one of three big mama election night melt downs, saying to random strangers and passersby, “Hey! Do you wanna help us beat Bush?” The responses came in alternating rhythms: no money and fuck you, somewhere in between which I managed to raise three dollars. All ten of us wore faces blistered from moist Midwestern heat. To our mutual amazement, JL and I discovered upon returning to the office that we were promoted to Field Managers.

Meet JL. His unfailing smile represented the least complex aspect of his character. He lived in a fraternity house and could consume vast quantities of alcohol in a wide variety of denominations, and yet unflaggingly trudged out every day with considerable charm to point out—no, wait. That’s not fair to him. JL is a great debater; in fact, a state champ. He has been a leader in student government who eschews the safe route, favoring principles instead; an apparent libertarian; analytical; generous; and someone who will survive the outcome of this election, regardless.

One of the best aspects of my DNC experience came early and lasted long. At a time when I felt remarkably paralyzed in my estrangement from phony youth culture, I met dozens of people half my age who, while caught up in some minor accouterments of consumerism, nevertheless rail against the potential political apocalypse with great flair. One such individual is JM, upon whose floor I will sleep many nights before all is said and done. Prior to joining our merry band of indefatigable nonbelievers, she taught English in eastern Europe. She simultaneously studied graduate level work in Slavic Linguistics while working forty hours each week with the DNC. Her aspirations made the hard work even harder. After all, she speaks five languages, although Republican is not amongst them. JM treated herself hard, not only by hating herself when her efforts were short of fruitful, but by having allowed me to sleep in her apartment, a distraction only comparable to having a crazed buffalo loose in a fine art gallery.

With mates on the mind and one month before the convention, John Kerry tantalizes the populace with threats to name a running mate, such teasing in no way halting the Grand Old Party from utilizing its overwhelming resources to prepare a set of three attack ads on each potential VP Although Carolina pretty boy John Edwards grabs the popular support, mainstream rag wags wonder if Kerry can bring himself to nominate someone who the public understands better than they do the presumptive presidential candidate. Of course, this strategy also eliminates Wes Clark, Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich, Al Sharpton, and my high school geometry teacher. Endorsing a Mexican-American like New Mexico’s Bill Richardson adds to the political division, which would be good if this weren’t politics American style. That’s why so many of us fear Kerry will select Dick Gephardt, a nonentity if ever such existed. JFK would be wise to pull in a liberal state governor, given the power that such a position brings about in stealing elections, which at this point is the only chance Johnny has. Face it, he’s tied with evil George at 42% nationwide support. While sucking up to the middle class, Kerry ignores precisely the most solid base of supporters at his disposal: the apocalypse neighborhoods. Day after day, our gang of what is now twenty-five shake hands and trade expectant smiles with rich, middle and poor, the only non-economic distinction being that the poor are not merely hungry. They are scalding hot and God damned pissed. George made them that way and John (so far) refuses to acknowledge their existence. Instead, he rants about the burden of the bourgeoisie. Of course, the median income in this country is $15.35 per hour, which means that the one hundred million people earning less than that amount don’t appear in either the Kerry playbook or the “likely voters” polls.

Bush, meanwhile, is taking no such chances. He only needs six of the seventeen swing states to win, and if the disenfranchised in Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Arizona, Tennessee and Florida stay home after being burned in 2000, Diebold can retired early on November 2.

JULY
Lord, I wish I could write like Raymond Chandler, specifically the way he wrote in the collection Trouble is My Business. Reportage of this campaign requires—mandates— dark, hardboiled, booze-soaked bitter humor, the kind to make MacBeth envious, the kind to make Banquo’s ghost appear, the kind to make Philip Marlowe emerge from a gin-encrusted one-room flat, rolling up Sunset Boulevard as he awakens from the new Great Depression.

John Kerry selected John Edwards as his running mate, in recent retrospect a singularly logical choice given the latter’s history as a plaintiff’s attorney against all manner of southern corporate industrial crime. The DNC plans to use this much-ballyhooed announcement as a slingshot of excitement to carry them through until the convention, a huge mistake given the Bush family’s history of surprises. According to the more conspiratorially minded (like myself), the Bushes will launch a July Surprise of sufficient magnitude to divert media exposure from Kerry to some brouhaha about nationalistic security. This assault cannot lose because even the few suspicious troglodytes in the core news corps who recognize this as a ploy will only pay lip service to the possible preemptive strike rather than exposing it.

What would Chandler think about all this? I suspect he might actually celebrate it, for in a taciturn way, the new and improved Great Depression descends with every sunrise as the city across the street yawns in somnambulant discourse about nothing of substance, nothing more relevant than the latest Bukowski cheer of narcissism, or whether the Mom and Pop coffee shop delivers itself as superior to Starbucks, or if the Bush team will at long last publicly masturbate to their copies of the Reader’s Digest.

And speaking of Bukowski, meet PH. PH initially pretended to be a California wasteland, littering his language with a million “man’s” and “dude’s.” As his hidden ambitions revealed themselves, the real man emerged, one who never quit pursuing the Goals with a good-natured tenacity, one who often preferred reading books to swilling beer.

But after two months in the swelters of canvas fundraising, the soles of my running shoes are wearing thin, and I resigned, Friday, July 16th. Celebrating, fifteen of us barged into the Short North Tavern on High Street to bamboozle supporters into letting us cadge drinks. Hugs and kisses, solicited and otherwise, exchanged themselves, and several exclamatory hangovers later, I was loosely planted in JM's apartment off the High Street. The politics of culture remained my passion, despite applying for work as a staff writer for The Other Paper, a scaled-down version of the west’s New Times. I found myself caring about almost nothing anymore, other than writing, drinking, and being a public scandal. My meager attempts to convert liberals to liberation were ignomious, although some of the best conversations I’ve ever known happened over the last eight weeks.

Meet EM. Sunshine, as I call her, never met a Republican she didn’t want to convert. Interpreting every NO as a YES waiting to explode, her burgeoning charisma appealed to us all. While we all wanted to take her under our individual wings, the immutable fact remains that against a stacked deck of family resistance reminiscent of the Borgias, EM maintained an intense focus that lost nothing in the translation from the office to the street.

The same can be said for RF, a young man for whom I quickly developed a keen respect. In addition to being one hell of a singer and guitarist—which he knows—he was also a good Field Manager and role model—which he did not know. RF proved that Art is superior to Politics, yet that Summer, something the opposite of anarchy tried to solidify in him, offering to strangle up his creativity with its need for security.

The problem, you see, is that when no one was paying attention, the world went straight to hell. Those of us who thoroughly enjoy strip clubs because of the appreciation we have for the female form—as well as for the cheap thrill of exposed breasts pulsating against our crotches—found ourselves maneuvered into a position where such harmless shenanigans became synonymous with artistic expression and free speech. Those of us who make the occasional dip into drug-infested waters have been out-navigated into endorsing the greatest comeback cocaine has ever known. Those of us who revel at the sonic stagger of molten power chords and angry lyrics have swelled arenas to endure Quattro-drive quakings from bands too synthetic to live, even among the undead. Culture, at least the commercial variety, lies slabbing at the morgue, and at the forefront of this comcult swaggers Politics, wherein those of us who not so long ago yearned and fought for substantial changes in the ways people could experience political culture, nowadays simply hope that with a Democrat in the White House, maybe just maybe things won’t get any worse. We have become what we once abhorred: a reactive, lonely mob, diverted rather than engaged by sex, drugs, and rock & roll.

Some people, such as your humble narrator, consider this current malaise to be the inevitable weed-growth of the fact of the Allies secretly losing World War II. But even a less historically dystopian viewpoint must concede that the days when people might understand what folksinger Phil Ochs meant when he said “The only chance for a revolution in this country lies in getting Elvis Presley to become Che Guevara” are definitely over.
When even against the grain organizations like Move On and America Coming Together join ranks to actually waste time giving a damn about Sandy Berger stealing documents from the Archives or Linda Ronstadt endorsing a political documentary, then it is absolutely time for somebody—probably me—to remind the youth of today that if you bother to get a permit for your demonstration, then your protest is stillborn, even if it is polite about the mess.

The young men and women I’ve met so far this summer are amazing, make no mistake. Flopping their sandals six to ten miles a day in Amazon-style humidity, paying seven dollars a day to park, having doors slammed in their smiling faces and being ridiculed for their trouble—it all fades back when someone like JC returns to the office with $400, simply because he refuses to surrender (and because he is smart), or when EM gets a check for $1000 from a Republican who actually understood what was going on. Or when AK gets a dozen contributors of under ten dollars each, every one of which representing at least a vote, an investment in the process. Such little victories stave off the pre-apathetic depression against which we chronically anesthetize ourselves. I’ve watched PH, whose metabolism would out-pace and eventually kill a normal man, cram his face with swine burgers and chicken balls until I thought he would explode on his way back to the counter for a large chocolate shake. I’ve watched JL remain loquacious while chasing white rum with contentious gin and tonic. I’ve watched JM nurse her emotional solitude with a series of one-nighters guaranteed to only intensify the agony. JM did learn a lot, though, from a loneliness she waded through with a Marine, a Vietnam vet, who stood on crutches, his features covered in white, creamy skin medication, an ex-soldier unable to contribute financially, but hearty in his emotional donation. Some people don’t want her to leave their doorsteps, probably because they sense that she senses the power in their isolation. After all, everyone pilfers some kind of emotional connection from even the worst of jobs. This job, being relatively on the side of the angels, intensifies the glory of those connections, actually trumpets them, and leaves even the most shallow of us (me) with a spiritual advantage the GOP supporters can only envy.

The future stinks. The present isn’t much cheerier. And the past is a pack of lies. Only literature provides solace, and since no man is an island, much less a peninsula, hope in ourselves remains the only salvation.

Last night’s rain washed away most of the Republican dung up and down High Street. As everyone knows, Republicans are from another planet, probably Mars, and totally lacking in any genuine sense of humor, unless of course some little old lady takes a header down a flight of stairs and ends up paralyzed. Now that’s funny, they will tell you without blinking or laughing. We all got oursevles forty-eight Rolling Rocks during the thunderstorm, got silly-ass drunk and had a great time.

Having suddenly been shown interest in The Other Paper job, I am filled with a number of future-piece and ancillary ideas:
1 Carla Bley’s new album, The Lost Chords, is now in stores. Time for another interview and album review.
2
Who do other African American women date these days? You know, the ones who are not Halle Berry?
3 Living in my head: Gimme more Beatles Right Now!
4 Transforming Pigeons: the Real Story of a Reality TV Actress
5 Who Put the Blow in My Smoothie? A Brief Look at Red Bull
6 From Oslo to Kazan: Teaching American to a Bunch of Damned Foreigners—The English as a Second Language Industry
7 How to Kill Yourself Without Really Trying—Suicide on a Budget

While I’ll never get around to writing most of these articles, the good news is that only I can prevent forest fires.

The two big stories in Democratic politics, now that we’re one week from the Convention, involve Dennis Kucinich and Sandy Berger. Kucinich, who has been hell-bent on having a voice in Boston, finally gets to use that voice in exchange for officially dropping out of the race and conceding his seventy delegates to John Kerry. Those delegate supporters may seem paltry, but the larger strategy is to swing the left away from people like DK and Nader, all the better to focus on job one: getting Bush out of office. How’s this for cliché? “We have everything on the line in this election— healthcare, environment, foreign policy—so we’re pulling out all the stops to win back the White House.” This smacks of psychosis, naturally, given the anemia of the two party system, a degenerate coin toss in which sixteen percent of likely voters still claim to be undecided. Undecided? Some of them must be holding out for bribes, or else overestimating the value of their solitary votes. Even a scurrilous anti-establishment gadfly such as myself recognizes certain clear differences between the two major candidates: 1 Bush initiated the unfunded No Child Left Behind Act, requiring teachers to teach to the test, further widening the economic gap between public and private schools. 2 Bush proposed and signed off on the largest tax cut for the wealthy in world history, a condition he now wishes to extend. 3 Bush wants to encourage small businesses to provide safe working conditions for U.S. workers as a means of keeping healthcare expenses down. 4 Bush recognizes international terrorism by Arab countries to be a legitimate threat to American interests at home and abroad.

Contrast these four talking points to John Kerry’s positions. JFK supports all four issues to one degree or another. But he’s so much more polite about it.
Which brings us face to face with that most polite of all Democrats, Samuel “Sammy” Berger. According to Curt Anderson of the Associated Press: “The main investigative committee in the Republican-led House will look into allegations that Clinton administration national security advisor Sandy Berger mishandled highly classified terrorism documents…The documents dealt with…the threat of a terrorist attack during the 2000 millennium celebrations.”

While I’m certainly no apologist for Berger, I do find it convenient that (a) the Bush administration has known about the missing documents for months and releases the story now only when the 9/11 Commission report comes out, also taking the edge off the DNC Convention, as predicted, and (b) there were in fact no terrorist attacks during those mindless celebrations, although my next door neighbor suffered severe rectal burnings while attempting to light a fart. Given that until recently Berger served as an advisor to the Kerry campaign, will the John-John ticket collapse in response to the vague rumors and innuendos? Probably not. But something big is undoubtedly in the works as convention week draws near.

Operation Save America definitely has its act together better than the DNC. The anti-humanist group from Mars’ polar ice caps hit town last week, hoping in vain that they could provoke a police officer into shooting a few of their numbers. Alas, no such charm awaited the mob in their foot journey from Cali to D.C. Whatever one may think of these emotional Neanderthals, they are quite officious, all their permits ready and stamped with the seal of the city. Kind of makes me nostalgic for the good old days when permits were for pussies and people protested on principle. After all, OSA wanted to get arrested, so why bother with permits? Why not simply set fire to the fetus they cart around right on State Street and drag a few doctors out of their homes and give ‘em a public Abu Ghraib treatment? Why not, indeed. These self-knighted pseudo-religious cretins are messing with The Kid and know it. More harbingers from Hell, all in the right place and time.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Pat Hobby Stories rocks the Casbah. Hobby is a semi-Fitz, sporadically working at The Movie Studio twenty years after talkies began, simultaneous with his career being placed on hold. These shorts appeared in Esquire in the early 1940’s and make me wonder what Chandler’s Philip Marlowe would be like if he were a hack writer in Hollywood.

All of this matters and relates to the issue at hand because of the political times in which we live. Almost every Democrat I meet insists that their party will landslide into the White House, a viewpoint that would be touching if it weren’t so ill-informed. Jump back to the 1976 election. After eight years of the terrifying Nixon-Agnew-Ford regime, America found itself primed for a left-leaning liberal to yank the country back on the right track. Instead, the Dems fed us a right-leaning moderate, Jimmy Carter, who squeaked by the idiot puppet-boy, Gerald Ford. We’re every bit as polarized today, probably more so, with a president just as morally corrupt as Nixon. Predictably, one day before the beginning of the DNC convention, the polls show a 42-42 split, with Nader already at 5%. The smart money holds that Kerry’s numbers won’t raise more than five points by week’s end, and there’s long shot action that the John-John ticket will actually drop by the first of August.

AUGUST 1st-15th
I left Ohio on foot July 31st, a Saturday, lugging myself and a thin backpack crammed with fifty pounds of clothing and personal items. After hiking the nearly twenty miles out of Columbus, I was almost happy to see the Sheriff Deputy’s bubble lights signaling me to a halt. The Deputy, Ben Jones, ran a check on my DL and said with a smile, “I’ve got great news.” I chuckled. “You saved a bunch of money on your auto insurance?” He laughed and informed me that I had no outstanding warrants. A heavy rain was fast approaching, so Ben told me to get in the back, that he’d give me a “courtesy transport” to the county line. Those seventeen miles were revelatory, for here sat a member of law enforcement who declared himself pro-choice on everything from abortion to seat belts. Many of his political insights came straight from his own personal assessments, yet rang familiar from DNC analysis. He was, simply put, the pinnacle of what police in this country should be, just as the trooper in Arkansas two days later who shouted for me to get off the Interstate was indicative of the other type.

Ben and I got along well, in part because I neglected to inform him that the reason I was hitching was that my car had been impounded by the Columbus PD, and between fines and charges, they wanted $3,500 to release it, and would do so only if I first purchased Ohio tags, which I would have to replace with Arizona plates in about two weeks. Economics being the better part of finance, I took to the thumb.

Ah, but it was the sheer beauty of L that kept me going when all hope seemed but a futile childish yearning. Just outside the southwestern Ohio valley near Louisville, Kentucky, she pulled up in her Camry, her eyes bright, but her nose crinkled with caution. Who could blame her? She worked as a waitress to support herself and her college education in Huntsville, Alabama, and I existed—if at all—as a chain smoking reprobate addicted to low finance and all the thighs I could massage. She treated me well,L did, in spite of the apparent danger. In addition to hauling my tired ass all the way to Nashville, she fed me a BK veggie burger, fries and a Coke, all of which I devoured with the same delicacy a hyena brings to a slaughtered lamb. Louise and I talked about the future, music, politics, love and freedom. She was hot, but naturally attached to another struggling writer, on whose behalf I supplied some small amount of career advice. No other woman dared pick me up, but I miss brave Louise, who considered the eating of meat to be murder, and who had the uncommon courage to declare as much in front of what was at the moment the hungriest man alive.

Mind you, all this while, during and between rides, I stayed current on the political milieu. The DNC had had its convention, which I watched near constantly, and both friend and foe declared John Kerry’s speech a home run, the surest sign that it amounted to a foul ball.

As predicted, Kerry and John Edwards spent to convention amidst over-intellectualized handlers with no sense whatsoever about how to win this specific election. The convention amounted to nothing more than the development of a vague platform, the thoroughly and purposefully anti-climactic nomination process, and all of this capped by the most boring and tightly scripted speeches in the history of politics. Conventioneers and TV viewers alike want a chance to mindless emote about some tired catch phrase uttered to galvanize the populace, and so when Barack Obama came off quite eloquent, he also bored to tears everyone involved, as did Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich, Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton and Max Cleland. Only Hillary Clinton and Al Sharpton chummed the waters, the former simply by representing how an attractive, intelligent woman scares the piss molecules out of the right wing, and the latter showing how an aging black minister accomplishes the same thing. So unpleasantly tight was the scripting otherwise that not even Kerry himself felt permitted to revel in the adoration the Bush-haters yearned to bestow upon him. The only time during his forty-five minute self-plug when he didn’t clip short the applause came at the very beginning, when he looked the most uncomfortable, declaring with a salute that he was “reporting for duty.”

I swear, all this emphasis on military phrases and terminology slides right by the corporate media the way baseball managers slide farts past interviewers. Everyone recognizes it, yet no one signifies the recognition, even with a nervous laugh. The other big gaffe in Kerry’s acceptance recitation occurred when JFK promised to require the United Nations to play a larger role in the military transformation of Iraq. While this was offered up to appease the convention delegates, ninety percent of whom stand opposed to the War, Kerry’s declaration that he wishes to internationalize the conflict strikes some people on the left as snake hokum, and others as a dangerous path that might further polarize the world. Ultimately, of course, there remain four positions on the terrorist threat: 1 annihilate all fundamentalist adherents to Islamic extremism; 2 continue the war, reverse the economic downfall, antagonize and resist; 3 stop antagonizing terrorists by colonializing their culture; that is, require them to allow America to join them in accepting the world; 4 stop pissing off the terrorists altogether; legitimize the resentment caused by our economic/spiritual support of the imperialistic tendencies of Israel; and offer war reparations.

These cannot all be correct, at least not at the same time, as L pointed out. I learned years ago to avoid making incendiary statements to the person offering you free transportation, so I changed the subject. But the fact is that all four of these mentalities dominate certain sectors of the world, each has some type of academic support, and each is well within the reasoned grasp of your average American and Iraqi, not to mention your average terrorist, be s/he Christian, Jew, or Muslim.

It may not even have been beyond the kin of my next big transporter, a 33 year old Kid Rock look-alike named Ricky. Rick was a major conversationalist, or perhaps more accurately, a great monologist. He didn’t have much use for other people’s opinions, but he did place a high value on his own. This didn’t prevent him from treating me well. After all, he bought me smokes, Cokes, food and transportation, and all he asked for in return was for me to listen to his every last word. His stories did impress me, but even more they gave me insight into certain features of the hitchhiking experience.

*You have a much better chance of getting a ride if you are walking and thumbing at the same time. Because you are perceived as lazy, unemployed, and quite probably malevolent, the driver expects you to at least make some effort in getting to your destination.
*While it is true that most of the people who are willing to give you a ride have at some point in their lives hitchhiked as well, it is a fact that—except for L —sympathy takes a backseat, as it were, to a need to feel slightly superior to someone else.
*Hitching the Interstate, it’s a good idea to sleep at night, since the only people who will give you a night ride are thoroughly insane. Find a rest stop with full facilities, use your pack as a pillow, and pretend to be taking a cat nap.

Since arriving back in Phoenix, I have discovered the unwelcome wonders of homelessness and starvation. After spending one horrible night in a shelter referred to as the 12th Avenue Retreat, I escaped the barbed-wire enclosure and walked seven miles to the Arizona Heart Hospital, where I collapsed. They couldn’t do much for me, of course, since they didn’t think my problem was cardiac in nature. I left there the next morning, a Sunday, and walked over fifteen miles in 110 degree heat to the next nearest hospital, John C. Lincoln, with three gashes in my right cheek and blood needle tracks in the crooks of both arms. None of my old friends can or will help me, and death seems very near. As I write this, it is Tuesday afternoon, 8/10/04, and I sit in the food court at Metro Center, out of the heat, waiting until 7:30pm, when I can call Christy Tripp about a place to stay. I’m very weak from loosing so much blood and having no food except water. The food court is a terrible place to sit because of the smell. But where else can you find a table and chairs? Better to think of politics for the moment. Besides, I’ve lost 31 pounds in three months.

This is such a stupid day. Not only am I starving to death, but John Kerry decided to give up any chance he had of winning the election by admitting that, knowing what he knows today, he would still go to war against Iraq. Much wiser would it have been to say “Hell, no!” than to risk alienating the 90% of all Democrats; that is, those who oppose the invasion. The Hell No response could and should have been delivered immediately, since it is the only way to defeat Bush.

And speaking of that evil-doer, today he announced Poston Goss as the nominee to replace George Tenet as DCI. This representative from Florida is a great choice for the Bush team. The Dems have already pretended to oppose him, but because they are all cowards, he’ll get a free ride into the CIA. Goss’ resume runs back as far as the Bay of Pigs, which is probably where he met Bush the Elder. This is a scary dude, and he’ll fit in well with Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice.

I finally caved in to hunger and told the girl in the customer service desk at Metro Center that I Lost $1.25 in the Coke Machine. She gave me the money, 85 cents of which I spent on a McDonald’s hamburger, and now I wish I had the soda instead, delicious as the burger was. Water fountain water just doesn’t cut it, not in this heat. I’ll have to call Christy in a couple minutes, collect. I don’t expect much. Nothing, actually. All I need is a place to sleep, a cold soda, and a washing machine.

Well, I hope God does see fit to help, because Christy won’t take my calls. Maybe I am getting religion. There’s certainly nothing else left. Right now I’m sitting in the waiting room at Banner Thunderbird, just to have a place to sit. If anyone asks, I’ll say I’m waiting for a ride. Then in the morning I’ll walk to the Arrowhead Mall, clean myself up, grab another free Coke, and see if my key fits in the lock of my old house. Again, what else can I do? Maybe throw myself on the mercy of some local restaurant and try to get a day gig as a waiter, which with the tips should give me some cash. That would help buy food and lodging. If I ever get out of this, my surplus money is going to the poor.

God (and I mean it) saw fit to spare me by another couple days. After getting kicked out of the hospital waiting room, I staggered to my old house on Pontiac. It had both a FOR RENT and SALE PENDING sign in the yard. I’m pretty stupid, but I had saved the house key and sure enough, it worked. The place was still big and deserted, just like when I lived there, and I slept from 2:30am until sun-up.

The next day I went looking for work as a waiter. Both Coco’s and Denny’s turned me down, probably because I looked like a bum: sweaty, aromatic, road-scars on the cheek, and thoroughly emaciated. I’m no better than them. I’d have turned me down, too.

I know this reads like a confused garden of thorny ideas. But how else can I sum up the recent experiences which have led me to this state of near demise? Who indeed will even read these words, or care? It’ll be decades before anyone even notices I’m gone. How pathetic, this self pity. I had truly hoped to survive long enough to see out the election, but I’m so weak now that standing up is as much of a struggle as walking. I don’t know how people endure years of this, but I know why it drives them insane.

After two hours on the library’s public computer, the system kicked me off. On the way back to the safe house, I scored $3.50 by telling three different grocery stores that their soda machines malfunctioned. With $2.17 of those proceeds, I bought a BK hamburger kids meal, which I devoured greedily. I arrived back at the safe house at 1pm, noticing that someone else had definitely been there. The front blinds were readjusted to an open position, and the back door was now locked.

Back in Columbus, JM is trying to locate me, and she has enlisted the local DNC office in her pursuit. Both she and they have sent emails to Perfect Sound Forever, a magazine for which I have occasionally written, asking the editor, Jason Gross, to help them find me. Since Jason, one heck of a nice guy, thought I was dead, he is quite confused about the entire matter. Jason, if you’re reading this, I apologize. I did not die on February 14th, 2004, as it says on your website. I tried to die, but failed. And I was ashamed of my failure. The irony is that now that I want desperately to live.

When I began writing this back in June, I believed that life was just the result of cosmic indigestion. Now, today, I wonder if God is getting back at me for all the people I’ve screwed over. If so, my bad times are just beginning. I can imagine being beaten and raped in prison, turned into a mental vegetable, and left to drool and snort the rest of my life away. And it scares me.
© Phil Mershon September 2 2004
mershonphil@hotmail.com

See Also Going Buckeye -Driving Across America in an Audi TT


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