exercises in compound storytelling

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What's Rangoon to You is Grafton to Me (transcript)

About six months ago I was studying for an exam and became distracted and borderline-obsessed with this piece of Australian radio something (drama? I'm not sure) from the late Seventies. I'm tempted to play Spot the Influence, but I won't, as it is difficult to imagine what Russell Guy was listening to in mid-1978, etc. 

I have grabbed Simon Rumble's transcript from his original page and compared it to the edit from the Night Air rebroadcast episode. I've corrected some spellings, added some links etc. and fixed the rare mistake. Notes and corrections are welcome in the comments as usual.

I am planning on following up with a breakdown of the soundtrack; don't hold your breath.

-*-This story is by Russell Guy and first appeared in Tracks Surfing Magazine in 1978. It is available through Tower Books in a short story compilation entitled "What's Rangoon to You is Grafton to Me": a radio cult classic and other stories by Russell Guy; published by Collins/Angus & Robertson, Sydney 1991. It was performed on 2JJ (now triple J) in October 1978 and has since been performed on Radio National-*-
I dunno... people should try being someone else for a while. I was Den Whitton for a few days, and I quite liked it.
Look what that did for me:

(SFX: frogs)
I was just waking up when the front tyre went. At the same time a horse appeared, the headlights blew and the horizon came through the windshield. I kissed Eartha Kitt and left the road like a jumbo jet diving into a swamp. Some time later I regained a level of consciousness more ugly than the one I just left. I'd seen some strange movies on the insides of my eyelids again and now I was wide awake.
But I couldn't be sure.
Do you realise that Bob Menzies now knows what really happened to Harold Holt?
There are a lot of answers to question. If travel really broadened the mind then why send astronauts into outer space, when for half the price they could send heads of state into innerspace. It just didn't make sense. Millions of years ago when Man first crawled out of the sea
Was he wearing a bathing suit?
There are a lot of answers to question.
It was the radio.
It didn't make sense.
Blue flashes shot out of the radio as I fishtailed out of the creek, clawed through the lantana and gripped back onto the Bruce[?]: heading South and driving all night; Brisbane to Sydney; travelling low and close to the sky; glancing up at palm tree silhouettes like giant swizzle-sticks in a Bjelke-Peterson cocktail. There are many reasons for leaving Brisbane and no time like the present, on a trip that's being driven every night from Townsville to Tumut; Gundagai to Sirius[?]; Rangoon to Grafton.
From one side of your face to the other (SFX riiiip!)
I folded the Shell roadmap into a twelve inch square, reducing the New South Wales coastline to a glance, and then lit up an Arnott's scotch finger biscuit. I placed the shock absorbers onto automatic pilot and took out my attache case containing the night driving brain that helped me see round corners, pink dots[?], across oceans, and down wombat holes.
When the night comes down your collar and the road starts coming up through your headlights familiar landscape suddenly isn't.
It's dreamtime in the land of legends[?]. Somewhere out there Henry Lawson's taking another swig.
Inside the car I'm making final adjustments to the viewing screen: a Holden windscreen where tonight's travel thriller is being shown at 70mph. Not so much "The Cars That Ate Paris"
or "The Jellyfish That Swallowed Coffs Harbour."
It was going to be a good trip. I pressed my foot against the rear-view screen.
It was the radio.
Eartha Kitt cooled off while the low spark of the high-heeled boys took the edge off Tweed Heads and the lights of Murwillumbah disappeared in the rear-view mirror. I made myself comfortable and a short time later saw Halley's Comet pass three times to the East. Mount Warning flashed a message, and pretty soon I was in Rangoon trying to master the art of being powerless and completely stupid: the only way to travel.
Lapsing into a coma and running off the road had already proved too easy, so I placed one eye on the road, one in Rangoon, and the other on a box of Darrell Lea chocolates that I was quietly quaffing at the Rangoon Bowling Club, having just filled up with Total at Brunswick Heads.
The hills were alive with the sound of snorting truckies, and I was just beginning to lay back and enjoy it, when I heard a noise like a Sunbeam Lady Shaver in reverse. I looked out to see some poor schizoid drive out of a creek and disappear backwards up the road. His laugh looked a lot like mine, but I knew it wasn't me. No one from Sydney can laugh that long.
It was the radio
An all night pit stop loomed about fifty years up the road, but there was also something on the back seat; moving and curling; reaching out with long dark fingers ripping my throat, twisting my toes, and pounding my ears into the dash.
It was the radio.
The transcendental masturbation unit on my shoulders began to show more interest in a floating Esso sign, so I drifted back from Rangoon in time to take milk with my coffee.
Where was I? Highway 1. Hawaii Five-O. Is my port still on board? Was there a bomb on board? Was I on board?
Was I neurotic, or just low on gas? I couldn't be sure. I reached for the map, but never quite made it.
Where was I?
I couldn't be sure.
I reached for the map, but never quite made it.
But I couldn't be sure.
It just didn't make sense.
My eyes followed the curve in my neck, and in the back window I saw the Southern Cross neatly intercepted by the Grafton sign post. "Grafton?" I screamed twice: "Europe was never like this." Grafton and Rangoon don't mix, even with a limp. It might be a nice place for acid casualties to retire, but getting through Grafton at night is like chasing the min-min lights through the cross-roads of credibility.
Luckily I was travelling with my cat as, every good traveller knows, cats contribute to the psychic kitty. Dogs are useful travelling companions when you want advanced waring of natural disasters, like volcanic eruptions, floating boat sheds, and Second Comings, but cats work the other way:
From the inside out.
I hit the radio. The hair on the back of my cat fell out. It was Harry Belafonte. I knew cats can't stand reggae: it confuses them. They mince around looking all Egyptian, trying to walk sideways, but not really getting anywhere. I killed the radio and put the cat out.
(music: Glenn Miller: American Patrol.)
Somewhere up above the murderous fog I could just make out the semi-monotonous drone of one of Her Majesty's Burmese warriors. It was Group Captain Sir Douglas Bader. The mighty legless flier was circling hopelessly, the motor of his sawn-off spitfire gurgling like a didgeridoo in mud, searching for the blacked out flying field where Burmese dope runners lay concealed by the paranoia in the air and the hash resin in their eyes. Hail Douglas in articulo mortis!
It was time to go over the top.
A month on the floor and I was ready for bed when the phone in my foot rang. It was the TAB, the RSL, the CSIRO, and the man from the psychedelicatessen all raving in poodle Spanish.
Take your own brains to the cleaners, Mohammed!
I screamed and locked the passenger side door. But worse, a leg was coming through the windshield. An arm appeared followed by a torso and finally a face. I recognised it instantly as Dr. Timothy Leary who was on the outside looking in.
"I'm the man most likely to discover immortality and good surf on the south side" he said. "Don't talk to ME about schizophrenia, Tim," I replied. "I'm still alive even as I write this." Rock and roll was dead as I tuned up the dial and hit the riff. The radio leapt off its death bed on the back seat,
The Rolling Stones twitching in the static,
That's what I say!
but the penetrating bounce of its signal couldn't cut the cryogenical state of Australian broadcasting so I flicked the switch and the dizzy monster slithered back into its speakerbox.
But what's all this got to do with Grafton?
About as much as 1978's got to do with Disneyland.
There must be some way out of here.
There must be some way out of here.
Where was I and When was it?
Where have all the dingos gone?
The full moon was piercing as I slammed into neutral and went for it.
It was 2AM in Rangoon and early next week in Grafton. The full moon, and piercing. I slammed into neutral and went for it.
Where was I and when was it?
Where was I and when was it? Where have all the dingos gone? It was the age of spoof, and Australia's not on the map.
A cassette fell into place and Jimi Hendrix bent back the night.
There must be some way outta here,
There must be some way outta here,
Said the Joker to the Thief.
Said the Joker to the Thief.
There's too much confusion.
I can't get no relief.
Go Jimi.
They just stand there, drink my wine!
Go Jimi.
While they dig their hurt![*]
Go Jimi
No reason to
Go Jimi
Outside, even the snakes were cold. The air was frozen still. The Mullumbimby Moon and an arctic-white Holden gliding south in northern NSW, slicing through a sea of stars while green-tinged jellyfish hovered in the headlights, tentacles bristling in t he breeze. Out over the silver hills enormous manta rays streaked through the night skies like hang-gliders returning to Byron Bay.
Rangoon swam into focus but my concentration had flown out the window. My foot was asleep travelling at twice the speed of lead. Ghost gums flickered by at blur speed. The car slid around the curve, and what looked like several realities at once came crashing through the glass. The full moon hung right above the steering wheel, not saying a word.
Ha ha ha ha! Ah, the monk laughs at the moon and everybody for ten miles around in all directions wonders why. He's just reminding them. Of what? Of the moon!
The old dumb moon of a million lives.[*]
A possum looked up, looked through me, and was gone. A flash of fauna, its eyes glinting like beer cans by the side of the road. Everything went by so rapidly that I had scarcely the power of observation. Blur had set in.
A knock on the roof brought me back to the viewing screen. It had drifted out of focus. My eyes swam before the instrument panel like a short-sighted projectionist at a drive-in movie. I reeled in my mind and wound up the window, fishing in the glovebox for another slide from my prized collection of sunsets. I was just about to throw one up when the grin on my face cracked. I tried not to laugh as I saw the flashing blue light in the rear view mirror.
One Adam-Twelve, we have a herbal freak in progress.
The odds of being rattled by the thought patrol on the New England Highway at night are lower than crashing immortality by square rooting death with blind mathematics. The coastal route's more dense, and so are the cops.
Trying to explain a packet of herbal tea to a reincarnation of Broderick Crawford is not easy, especially when you've just smoked your last joint. 3 o'clock in the morning this guy was still wearing sunglasses. An aura of evil surrounded his hawk-like head for a distance of fifteen feet.
A speeding fine, interrogation by torch, and small chat about what really went on in Griffith did nothing to unsettle my mind. I was in Rangoon and left it to that celebrated media mind fixer Colonel "Buck" Keith-FitzChudly to remind Constable Molloy of Mackville that there is such a thing a crank mail in reverse. The army knows only too well the searing bite of this merciless maxim. Each time they lodge recruitment posters in the newspapers Colonel Chudly replies with a coupon reminding them that
Military Intelligence is a contradiction in terms.
I waved goodbye, jumped back in the car, and got down to the serious business of getting out of it. I was trying to put as much space between Rangoon and Grafton as possible.
All of a sudden the cat screamed and the CB barked. I was trained in nerve warfare so I barked at the cat and screamed at the CB. It was my good buddy Spite-Lieutenant Tutankhamun and Sergeant Footman of the Egyptian Eyeforce.
"How's your cat?", he enquired.
"Not Out!"[?] I retorted. We continued to exchange mixed pleasantries, and ritual[?] abuse in a stream of misleading cosmic platitudes. "Hasn't the weather been strange lately?"
Not as strange as it's going to get.
I agreed to attend the Rangoon used-planet sale during the rocktober equinox, and signed off as the radio aerial came to rest against the extended foot of a learing mutant who was hitching a ride.
Drive me to distraction.
He was a refugee from the Al Capone School Of Advanced Punk. His head was separated at the neck, and his eyes looked both ways before crossing.
Drive me to distraction.
"You're on!" I said. "Hasn't the weather been strange lately? How's your cat? Get out and close the door."
Under his army fatigues he wore a Gympie Cowgirl's CoOperative tee-shirt, and his lapel sported a foot-power button that glowed in the dark. "I've just done some speed," he quipped. "I'm heading for Sydney."
"It would be a better place," I screamed and drove off in a cloud of figure eights.
He didn't say another word for five hours.
During the night we developed a good friendship based on the tascit understanding that neither of us played neurological crosswords. We were so off our face that instead of talking the eyes in the sides of our heads exchanged data. Occasionally I heard his neurons whirr like a flock of Major Mitchells.
Each time this happened I wound the window down and screamed at the jellyfish circling lazily above the speeding bonnet. "Here Judith! Nice boy, Brian! C'mon Neville!" His eyes continued to strick out across the moonscape, in the end I left him to his own vision of Pompeii. The sound of bolting doors was all that echoed from his ears.
He was the perfect hitch-hiker: entertaining but mute in all the right places. He never once complained about the steel girder of static satire that was masquerading as 2JJ's programme on the speaker box on the back seat. I think he even got a kick from the jumper leads I'd rigged under the dash. He attached the positive to his forehead and stuck the negative in his mouth before jerking around the front seat like a vegetarian in a butcher's cold-room.
Pure punk.
Two hours later he fell back in the seat, revealing his face: a simultaneous manifestation of love and fear, purple powder burns shaded his eyes, and he looked like he'd been standing on a dole queue all his life. But before I could tear myself in two. ..
(SFX ticktickticktickBOOM!)
...I was back in Rangoon. "Alright, who's next?" came the market cry. "Get Back!" I screamed. "I'm an Australian!" I knew this was a pretty lame excuse and prepared myself for the truth.
"Australia is merely an island of Antarctica," came a voice," and of no further significance." Suddenly I understood the secret of Atlantis.
I left the markets and wandered down to the Smokey Weather Club, where the Black And Blue Minstrels were appearing in the "Burnt Toast Cabaret Show." There was always a surfeit of Afghan hounds at the Smokey Weather Club sitting around, smoking cricket balls and reading the Burmese edition of Uranus Monthly. This was the real Rangoon, and instead of hanging out playing Musical Brains with Agnostics Anonymous, I had run into my old confidant the Governor General Of Her Majesty's Fishtank, Commodore Lord Deveraux Roller-Door-Derby[?], the famous Telecom Indian wrestler; the only Lord alive who could Indian-wrestle by telephone. He has Uri Geller eating out of his hand.
It was time for a growl and the perfect chance to casually drop the name of a good restaurant. "The Toast Of Rangoon" is a little place where they serve toast in a shoebox, and a plaster of Paris cat named Bruce played Eno on the piano. Lord Deveraux had the toast-du-jour, and I had flaming bluebottles served under glass: not recommended for eating or staring at for as long as it takes to realise that
What's Rangoon to you is Grafton to me
What's Rangoon to you is Grafton to me
Four o'clock's a dark hour, the hour before dawn.
Four o'clock's a dark hour, the hour before dawn
Four o'clock's a dark hour, the hour before dawn
Four o'clock's a dark hour, the hour before dawn
Four o'clock's a dark hour, an hour before dawn, and atop the Great Divide the early morning planets were rising before the sun. I tapped out a message to Betelgeuse and waited for a reply.
Through the frozen shadows ash-covered Aboriginals crowded the smouldering embers of their camp fire. The moon - almost gone. Sometime later I was sitting under a tree on the road to Rome. A fellow traveller buckled his sandal. I merely nodded and filled my pipe. It was time for the news.
All over the country breakfast announcers were racing for their studios, the Midnight-To-Dawn show asleep on the back seat. It was time for the news.
I put through a call to the ABC's person in Rangoon, but she was out to lunch with Genghis Khan. I needed someone to talk to, not necessarily human. The operator was a recording but said Erich Von Däniken was on the same wavelength riding neon tubes in Greenland. Was I crazy enough to speak with him?
Erich and I had little to say to one another. I quizzed him about the Ita Buttrose conspiracy, and served sublime questions about agnosticism until I got too much interference on my nervous system, and told Von Däniken he was hung up on jellyfish. He thanked me for the insight, and signed off in English.
I drifted back to the Major Judith Kidney Motel for breakfast, where I found the half-dressed, but fully whacked, Flying Zucchini Brothers performing a human pyramid in the lobby accompanied by the cheers of Princess Dog, of Queensland, who was touring the middle universe in anticipation of the return of You-Know-Who.
"Break it up, boys!" I screamed. "Pass the joint." This brought the house down, and the Flying Zuccini Brothers as well. There was no sense in waiting around for kudos so as soon as the dust cleared I headed straight for the breakfast room with the Pr incess Dog who was loitering in the lobby. Major was serving breakfast, and I told him his sandshoes were on fire. Quick as a flash he returned the fire. I rolled under the table as Princess Dog went up in a cloud of muslie. He passed me a bowl of parachute Bolognese.
I'd had a rough night's sleep and was in a semi-detached frame of mind, which is where I live most of the time, but the roof had sprung a leak and I'd woken up with this strange bone growing out of the top of my head. On my way to the bathroom mirror I ran into the famous and fashionable mind-juicer, Carl C. Jung, who was standing on the fridge out of milk and out of breath.
"What's it all mean, Carl?" I screamed.
"I'm glad you asked." he replied. "The readers have been dying to know." Erich Von Däniken had just rung him to say that I was cute but crazy, and I was unprepared for what Carl had to say. "It's your dorsal fin. you're turning into a shark." Jungian notions cover a great deal of whatever the hell is going on, but not all of it.
Jung was brilliantly right in saying the flying saucer phenomenon would become and important religious and spiritual transformation of humanity.
Blurred encounters of a close kind[*].
Blur had set in. A knock on the roof brought me back to the viewing screen. Close encounters of a blurred kind indeed.
(SFX Magpies singing)
The sun was streaking through Bulahdelah as I looked up from breakfast: a pineapple split over a stump still glowing from last night's bush fire, a creature that seemed more reasonable in the dark. I had already wash the grease out of the pits and was rearranging my wrinkles when I heard a noise that sounded like the mating call of a wild Massey Ferguson.
I peered through the burnt out scrub and witnessed a platoon of swamis flitting through the smoking trunks herding a flock of jellyfish down to the waterhole. They were deep in meditation, chanted Hickory Dickory Dock as they moved through the bush not more than three dimensions in front of me. It was a bit much first thing in the morning, and I absorbed too many rounds of brain-damaging hickory-dickory-docks before I could find a break in the traffic, and get back on the road to oblivion - a place not all that far from Sydney.
It's very peaceful out on the road: just me and the splattered butterflies, with the ubiquitous black crows zinging above the ironbarks, pinned to the cumulus like a postcard from Zowieland. The telegraph poles splinter in the sun like scarecrows at an astronaut's picnic. Mmmmmmmmm the hum of singing train lines like a telephone call from outer space. I had a beep on my image watch and returned to Kempsey.
The Kempsy RSL hall was a magnificent shrine to what it's all about, complete with a freshly painted replica of a 1938 neutron bomb chained to the flag pole. A breathtaking memorial to 20th century architecture from the Post-Annihilation period. I needed a break, so I wheeled into the carpark and entered the RSL for a drink. As I walked up to the bar for a hypocrite cocktail Walt Disney climbed out of the fridge.
"What are you doing in there, Walt?" I screamed.
"Selling strawberries, of course."
Of course.
I couldn't argue with that, so I climbed back into the car and drove off into the sunset.
I couldn't argue with that
The late afternoon sunlight struck the window like an eclipse seen through a beer bottle, and before I could tune in Rangoon some pseudo-Sufi disc jockey leapt off the back seat like a can of disintegrating coral, playing The Kinks' "Sunny Afternoon" on the radio.
It was another cold night as the first twilight jellyfish flapped across the road and down through the bracken fern. The smokestacks of Newcastle flung across the viewing screen like guideposts on the road to Rangoon.
I was just waking up when the front tyre went
Do you realise that Bob Menzies now knows what happened to Harold Holt?
Was he wearing a bathing suit?
Heading south, and driving all night
Dreamtime in the land of legends
Somewhere out there Henry Lawson was taking another swig
Mount Warning flashed a message, pretty soon I was in Rangoon
Mastering the art of being powerless and completely stupid
There was also something on the back seat
It was the radio
I screamed twice "Europe was never like this!"
The hair on the back of my cat fell out
Where was I and when was it?
Where have all the dingos gone?
One-Adam-Twelve, We have a herbal freak in progress.
I drove off the page and never saw myself again.
(SFX: frogs)

Monday, July 8, 2013


I have within the last five years sold two houses and bought one, and now have one house on the market. It has been something of a wild and disappointing ride: the recession hit the markets where I was selling, but not the market where I was buying, so let's just say I've been taking losses I can't write off my taxes left and right, while maybe acquiring some additional future taxes. When I am old and subsisting on government cheese I will look back on those losses with shall we say mixed feelings.

The first house I sold should have moved quickly; it was a quad unit in a town with a severe housing shortage, a single-employer town that was going through some serious gyrations that involved replacing a lot of older workers with younger workers. The older workers were mostly retiring and staying in town, so housing prices weren't falling at the top end. This meant I had a fair pool of candidate buyers for a property I had remodeled extensively and that inspected very nicely. Unfortunately about the time I put the property on the market my neighbor on one side had her deadbeat brother and his big mean dog come to stay with her for an indefinite period of time. This cost me months of market time and thousands of dollars and nearly cost my realtor her commission. I had notified her I was taking the property off the market and would not be renewing her contract when the brother and dog disappeared and a buyer appeared out of nowhere.

The second house was a small house with a great view in the Santa Fe area; a nearly unique property in that it was cheap and in a quiet neighborhood on the unfashionable end of town but had a half-million-dollar view of the Ortiz Mountains. I put the place on the market around Christmas, hoping to catch a crazy Christmas visitor to Santa Fe who would notice our property not least because the supply at the time in our price range was tiny. I noticed when the realtor wrote her description of the property she mentioned that it was single-story but not handicapped accessible; the significance of this did not strike me immediately. Most of the feedback we got on the property was of the form "this house is way overpriced and the price needs to come down" and we got a couple of lowball offers (with commensurate pressure from our realtor) before our buyers appeared.

The third house is a two-story (like the first) and is competitively priced; we're going to manage to lose money on this one, too, even though it has a fair number of upgrades, good xeriscaping, and has had no structural problems (unlike most of its cohort in the area). This time all of the feedback (and I do mean all of the feedback) has focused on the fact that the prospective buyer was surprised to discover that it was a two-story. This despite the fact that the pictures available on the Web clearly show a balcony with windows above and a garage beneath. My interpretation had been that the buyer's agent was attempting to squeeze the buyer into a particular property by presenting three or four options, only one of which met the buyer's criteria, and for whatever reason our house was chosen to be the attractive but unacceptable two-story.

Then a few weeks ago I read a summary of a conference held in Albuquerque about the future of Santa Fe real estate; it said, essentially, that only retirees move to Santa Fe, so houses need to be accessible to people who are in their declining years. Meaning folks who may not be able to manage stairs long term. But as I've said elsewhere I can't imagine a town actually functioning when it consists of noting but retirees and undocumented day laborers, as Santa Fe seems to want to be.

Then it occurred to me that I may be seeing a consequence of obesity trends in the area; it turns out that more than seventy percent of American adults are overweight and more than 35% are obese [link]. It's entirely possible that not all of our buyers are old; after all, ours is a family house with more bedrooms than a single retiree could sensibly use. Its possible what we're seeing is a stream of buyers who are too fat to use stairs comfortably on a regular basis.

What I think we're going to see long term is a housing market that segments into properties that have stairs and those that don't, and buyers can expect to pay a premium for the stair-free properties. Meaning that if you're fit enough to contend with a flight or two of stairs on the critical path to everything every day you can live cheaper than your less-fit counterparts. Hooray!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

you can't hide crazy

Or more accurately: you can't hide your crazy from people who look at crazy every day.

Many years ago I read Paul Fussell's book Class; where among other things he discusses who can and who can't afford to have someone else pack and open their luggage. He discreetly suggests that if you're visiting members of the upper class (even the lower upper class) its important to remember that it will be expected that the help will open your luggage, so don't put anything in it you don't want seen.

This sentiment seems almost quaint in the era, surely temporary, of the Transportation Security Administration, where every time you travel it is reasonable to expect that your luggage will be searched by a contract employee who wasn't quite prison guard material, but it's a reasonable guide for understanding another class of burly hourly workers: packers and movers.

The packers, God bless them, look directly at crazy all day every day; the movers, for the most part, just move it after it has been taped into cubes. You may be able to lie to the movers, but there's no point in even trying to lie to the packers: they look at crazy all day every day. And because the good ones are so hard to find, they may be looking at it six or seven days a week. Seriously: this is an example of amateurs vs. professionals: you're only amateur crazy, while these folk look at crazy on a professional basis. Do not try to lie to them.

My favorite stories from my day with the packers include the following:
  1. A woman out on the successful part of the south end of town called and offered triple the going rate for same-day moving. Meaning that she wanted to move the day of the call and was willing to pay. The dispatcher rounded up two crews from different moves, by turns forty and sixty minutes away and sent them to her address for overtime. When they arrived they called and couldn't get an answer. They went to a window and saw a body on a bed. Turned out the woman was being evicted the next day, and had decided to kill herself with pills and booze and leave her bloated cooling body for the movers. They couldn't rouse her by pounding on the window, so they called the cops. The cops gained entry to the premises, and she proceeded to assault one of them.
  2. Hoarders. Turns out you can stack up Lord only knows what as high and thick as you like and movers will move it, but cover it with animal waste and it gets complicated.
  3. If you have something you're ashamed of, or don't want to get arrested for, plan on hand carrying it to your new domicile. Don't tape it up and hand it to the packer and ask him or her to "just put it on the truck and don't ask." They can't do that and just plain won't. Besides, they look at things people should be ashamed of all the time. Just don't ask them to move drugs or other illegal stuff. Guns are a different matter: if their in a gun safe expect to pay more in insurance; if they're not, don't ask the packers to touch them.
  4. Turns out you can get a house full of nothing but beds and video production equipment moved from Albuquerque to "somewhere near but not in Hollywood" for the usual fees, but you should expect to be discussed if the topic of "what's the strangest thing you've ever moved?" comes up.
On balance I recommend hiring movers; get back to me a week when they've done what they said and delivered my stuff.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Santa Fe I love you but you're breaking my heart

After 15 years I am leaving Santa Fe, and not without considerable regrets.

The process of leaving Santa Fe has dragged on for several months as we have sold one house and have listed another. It's a process longer than dying of pancreatic cancer, shorter than a pregnancy, as these sort of life events go. In the process I've met some people who have given me a unique perspective on Santa Fe and who have reason to know.

There are several people who work in semi-skilled to skilled professions who see enough and get lied to enough that there's no point in lying to them. Dental hygienists being one (there's no point in claiming you've been flossing if you haven't; also, if you've started taking crystal meth since your last appointment you may as well fess up), cable installers being another. Home inspectors, handymen, and to some degree cops.

Our inspector described Santa Fe this way: "anybody who moves to Santa Fe as an adult is probably running from something." And the handyman: "most everybody who moves to Santa Fe as an adult is wounded and looking for a place to heal." I really have no idea if these two descriptions match up or not. What I do know is that Santa Fe tends to attract a certain kind of person, who for whatever reason is more taker than maker. And the town is not aging well.

This is a state capital with a lower-than-average high school graduation rate: roughly 58% versus a state average of about 66%, last I saw. And our school administrators will say flatly in open meetings they don't expect test scores to get better any time soon [link]. This is a town of 70,000 people with a distinct culture, architecture, and cuisine, a rarity in America. But its also a town of 70,000 people with its own immigration policy.

Santa Fe has a vast cash-only economy; the state's high gross receipts tax encourages cheating, so lots of people cheat. I'd be willing to argue that you haven't really moved to Santa Fe until you've had a bonded and insured skilled workman offer to "pay cash and skip the tax." Santa Fe has a shocking number of people getting paid under the table; without it the vaunted Santa Fe artist lifestyle (one job for money; one for insurance; one semi-official creative outlet) simply wouldn't be viable.

Santa Fe has used what little economic policy it has at its disposal (namely, choosing a group to give tax breaks) on artists, ignoring the fact that while art is potentially environmentally friendly it doesn't really have a multiplication factor: artists create jobs for themselves, and their agents, and gallery owners, and models and art supply stores and framers, but that's about it.

Lots of people were shocked and horrified when Bobbi Salinas-Norman turned up dead a few weeks ago, some months after her last known contact [link]. I don't know why: people like Salinas: people of a certain age, who weren't born here, who have scant to no family network, who have a plan for their lives that may not make financial sense, run rampant in this town. They practically run this place. They're the ones walking their dogs in the park in the middle of the day on a weekday, not cleaning up after aforementioned dog, getting offended if anyone suggests they take their dog to one of Santa Fe's many dog parks.

This is a town that apparently believes it can thrive as a retirement and refuge destination, meaning that there will always be enough people over 65 who want to move here and buy houses, and enough cheap Mexican labor to keep their houses livable. Where this leaves the local Hispanic population, who are on average not rich, educated, skilled, or mobile, is anybody's guess. I'm guessing that if current patterns persist they'll be squeezed out altogether within a couple of generations. Which is a shame given their unique culture. They've been living here since the time of the Conquistadors, and they've survived drought, famine, war, and statehood. Its hard to believe they'll be pushed out by simple poor planning.

This is a town that treats its dogs better than its children. The schools are like jails and the dog parks are many and well-kept. There are kennels here on par with a midrange day spa. I kid you not. Living here has shown me that while I consider myself a "dog person," in that I prefer dogs to cats and generally like dogs, I'm not a "dog person person:" dog owners here ignore leash laws, expect their dogs to be welcome wherever they are, and take no responsibility for their dogs' aggressive behavior. And those are the people who love their dogs. The ones who don't are worse: at the other end of the economic spectrum are the pit bull owners who abuse their dogs and raise them to be mean, who don't exercise them and are shocked when their dogs go crazy and maul someone.

We forget that this was one of the locations of the Catholic sexual abuse scandal; the local Christian Brothers school only recently renamed the ball field it had named for a Brother who was accused of over 130 counts of abusing minors (that would be Brother Andrew Abdon) [link]. If anyone thought it was unusual to have a field named after an admitted child molester for more than 15 years I never heard it mentioned.

But I digress. Santa Fe I love you but you're breaking my heart. It saddens me to see a city this liberal be this dysfunctional. By which I mean broken. As if by design. I wish you well, but I have no idea what that would look like.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Eno: The True Wheel

Dan Bodah has been using this as the opening track for his show Airborne Event on WFMU:

I realize the phrase "still sounds fresh" gets overused, but I swear that when I didn't know what this track was I assumed it was Le Tigre.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Augusten Burroughs: Running with Scissors

List of psychiatric medicationsImage via Wikipedia
Augusten Burroughs's 2002 memoir Running with Scissors is one of the most disturbing things I've read in a while. Granted, I don't read a lot of fiction, and I don't generally read just for freak value, but I picked this up at my local library on a whim, and by the time I got to the parts I found really disturbing it was really too late to put it down.

The basic story is this: Burroughs's mother is crazy, and she comes under the influence of a psychiatrist who is also crazy. She leaves him at the age of twelve with the doctor and the doctor's family. Hilarity more or less ensues. Some sexuality and adult situations. Some cruelty to animals.

Much of the stuff that jumps out at the casual reader is barely worth name-checking: the sex, the drugs, the codependent behavior. What's left when I ignore all of this is a story of a child who slips through the cracks, who should have gotten attention from welfare officials, but who was mostly ignored, probably on the strength of the leeway society gave psychiatrists at the time. And I suppose a lot of what happens here happens elsewhere in situations where oversight is inadequate, absent, or wrong-headed: cults, communes, foster homes, etc.

And I think that's all I really have to say about it. It struck me as a story of improperly placed trust, social status, etc. and I'm not really sure what else to say about it.

It's a reasonably good example of how an outrageous story becomes more palatable if presented as nonfiction. The story moves briskly. I don't recommend reading it.
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Thursday, March 11, 2010

"meat for lunch for Lent"

NEW ORLEANS - FEBRUARY 05:  A reveler wearing ...Image by Getty Images via Daylife
There is so much I do not understand about Catholicism. So much so that when I see a sequence like the following I'm pretty sure I'll never understand what it's like to be Catholic, and I'll double-never-understand what it's like to be ex-Catholic.

Here's Ross Douthat from the Times; I think he's decrying the do-it-yourself of American religiosity, particularly of American mysticism:

In a sense, Americans seem to have done with mysticism what we’ve done with every other kind of human experience: We’ve democratized it, diversified it, and taken it mass market. No previous society has offered seekers so many different ways to chase after nirvana, so many different paths to unity with God or Gaia or Whomever. A would-be mystic can attend a Pentecostal healing service one day and a class on Buddhism the next, dabble in Kabbalah in February and experiment with crystals in March, practice yoga every morning and spend weekends at an Eastern Orthodox retreat center. Sufi prayer techniques, Eucharistic adoration, peyote, tantric sex — name your preferred path to spiritual epiphany, and it’s probably on the table.
I have to admit that I'm so American that I'm genuinely of two minds on this: I love having the freedom to make a mess of my own spiritual practice, but I'm sometimes put off by the messes other people make of their spiritual practices. See e.g. my attempts to make sense of Colin Beavan, the No Impact Man.

But then there's Mary Valle, who I have to thank for mentioning this article:

Ross, do you eat meat for lunch every day otherwise? Really? It’s lunchtime and you’re all “Time for a hamburger! I think I’ll have some chops! Whoa, is that brisket? Garcon! Wheel that meat cart over my way, if you please!”
And I swear I've walked into the middle of a conversation uninvited. In a language I do not speak. Or words to that effect.

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