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Two Words: Jeff Ellis
Tuesday, March 30, 2004
  John F. Kerry has gone on record claiming to be a big fan of rap and hip hop music. Immediate reaction -- well, most people are hopefully sensible enough not to have a reaction to this. I'm tempted to say that Kerry has never come across as someone who would be into that genre of music but appearances can be deceiving. Looking at me and reading my blog, you'd never guess that I think the Wu-Tang Clan's soundtrack for Black and White was one of the most brilliant film scores in the history of recent film. However, I do and Kerry could very well be a hip hop fan but again, so what? How exactly is that relevant? Well, Kerry's answer to that is that by listening to rap, he has a superior understanding of what it's like out on what he refers to as the "street." While making sure we all knew that he condemned the various violent crimes detailed in many rap songs, Kerry also wanted to make sure that it was understood that, as a result of listening to the songs, he understood the conditions that led to that violence. "I understand that," Kerry said.

A cynic would claim that this is Kerry pandering to the young, African-American voters who have to turn out in huge numbers on election day for any national Democratic ticket to have a chance of winning nowadays. But that's a little bit harsh a judgment, don't you think? No, I think Kerry is probably being sincere. And that's why this story matters because it reveals just what type of liberal John Kerry is. And it has nothing to do with his own political beliefs or policy goals. No, Kerry's comments reveal that he is the epitome of the type of wealthy, smug white man who truly believes that -- by simply being tolerant enough to listen to a CD (imagine Kerry shaking his head in disgust at other people who won't even listen to one track off of the latest release from Death Row) -- he has a special relationship with economically-disadvantaged minorities. Though he's never lived on the street, he knows what it's like out there because he's listened to a CD (presumably while chilling in one of the seven or so homes owned by either himself or his wife across the planet). By this logic, I am also an expert on what it is like to black in America and to anyone who would disagree with me, all I can say is that I've seen every single film Spike Lee has ever made. Have they?

Y'know, a lot has been said about John F. Kerry these past few months, some positive and some negative. But there's one thing I have yet to hear anyone say about him and it really needs to be said. So, I will take the burden of making this comment upon myself:

John F. Kerry -- WHAT AN ASSHOLE! 
Monday, March 29, 2004
  I ended up taking off work on Saturday -- I had actually made up my mind to go ahead and go in for at least a few hours but then I woke up with my shoulder throbbing and was in terrible pain until I took some painkillers which then left me so dizzy that I nearly crashed the car a couple of dozen times while on my way to work. So, I got to the store, popped in, saw my co-manager Sloth, and told him, "Hey, I'm not coming in."

"Shit!" Sloth replied, realizing that he'd have to run the crew all by his lonesome that night and therefore, wouldn't be able to spend the entire night in the breakroom, sleeping, "Whatdafuckyoumeanyouain'tcomingin?"

(That actually is the way he talks -- no matter how long the sentence, it all comes out as one big slurred, incoherent word.)

"My shoulder's killing me and these painkillers are turning my brain to mush," I said, "I'd just be in the way. Besides, did you see the doctor's report? I can't do anything until Monday anyway..."

"MONDAY! ShitIneedyouheretonight!" He glared at me, waiting for a response, unaware that I was still trying to figure out what he had just said. Finally, he summed up his point with an enthusiastic "SHIT!"

I shrugged. "Gotta go."

And go, I did. So, I haven't gone into work since last Wed. and I've got the next two days off. I have to go back to the doctor later today and I assume that she will proceed to reopen my shoulder and do whatever it is that she does while I'm lying in her office. Christ, it recently occurred to me just how much trust I am putting in these people.

I did some medical research myself (for some reason, ever since I was a kid, there have always been various medical books lying around the house) and I now know as much about cysts as I suppose anyone who hasn't spent a day in medical school can know. I was concerned because I always figured this was the sort of thing that could be taken care of in one visit -- i.e., I stop by, doctor dopes me up, cuts off the offending lump, I get some stitches, and bing! bang! everything's cool. But, turns out, all the stuff surrounding the cyst (or whatever it is -- Listen, I read a chapter or two in a medical book, I never claimed to be an expert!) has to be removed before the cyst itself can be popped out (see above defensive aside) and apparently, that's what is going on right now.

So, in short, I have no idea how much longer I'm going to be dealing with this. To be honest, as much as I enjoy not having to go to work and as much as I'm going to enjoy having an excuse not to actually bother with working hard this upcoming week, I kind of want to get that damn thing outta my shoulder and get this over with. A lot of that has to do with the discomfort involved but, strangely enough, I find myself feeling guilty for not working. I've spent the last four days sitting around the house, watching TV, eating food that other people are preparing for me, and taking pills. I feel like such a slacker, despite the fact that I'm following doctor's orders. Just a few years ago, spending all day watching TV and taking drugs would have been a dream come true for me. However, right now, it has just left me feeling lazy, worthless, and so incredibly bored.

I'm as shocked as anyone.

Still, it has given me a chance to do some reading. I finished The Buddha Book yesterday. Did the rest of the book hold up as well as the first 70 pages (the ones that I raved about last entry)? No, the book actually got a bit uneven after those first few amazing chapters and the story started to run out of steam as the author made the common mistake (I know I've done the same thing myself) of making the various metaphors at heart of the story far too explicit, basically explaining what the story's various symbols represented as opposed to simply giving enough hints to allow the reader to figure it out for himself. In short, the author lost his faith in the reader. A common mistake and not one that should be too harshly criticized -- obviously, the book's story was very important to the writer (And, as anybody who reads on regular basis knows, there are far too many writers out there who -- for whatever reason -- really don't care about the story they're trying to tell or why they want to tell it in the first place) and he couldn't bring himself to risk having that story misunderstood. That doesn't make his novel a bad book but it does keep it from being a great one. Still, there is no shame in simply being good, especially when that good book leaves little doubt that it was written by a great author -- which the Buddha Book certainly does. (That author's name, I should probably mention, is Abraham Rodriguez.)

When I'm not reading or ordering stuff I probably don't need off of the internet (A sign, if anyone needs any further proof, that I have yet to grow up -- despite the fact that I knew nobody would be delivering any packages during the weekend, I still ordered a lot of expensive computer software on Friday and -- already looking at $300 bill -- I decided to make things even more expensive by selecting overnight delivery. Despite the fact that nothing is delivered overnight on the weekend which means, of course, that I'll be receiving all of this on Monday, which is the exact same day I would have received it if I'd selected the standard shipping option. Yes, I am a child. By the way, not counting the shipping charges, this internet shopping spree ended up costing four dollars more than it's costing to get my shoulder taken care of), I have spent way too much time watching TV. Other than the Sopranos , I can't think of anything worthwhile that I've watched since starting my medical vacation. Network television is mind-numbingly dull, this whole Survivors All-Star things has proven to be a disappointment as all of the interesting or entertaining former contestants have been voted off (except for Boston Rob, who I'm hoping will win just to see how long it'll take him to blow it all on drugs and hookers, and Rupert, who has quickly gone from being last season's hero to being this season's whiny, self-pitying, self-appointed martyr. If he claims, one more time, to have been an outsider his entire life...), American Idol isn't any fun once all the untalented hacks get voted off, and -- other than my favorite show about the Mafia -- HBO has become dangerously overrated. From the first episode, I've always felt that Six Feet Under was the type of show that could only have come from the mind of the man who wrote American Beauty, largely because the TV show not only makes all the same mistakes as the film but then repeats them for thirteen weeks straight. Both the film and the show -- these two overrated attempts to specifically create satire for humorless people -- are so smugly self-congratulatory that there's no way they couldn't have been successful. For all of their attempts to be daring and unconventional, neither one of them actually takes any risks or actually says anything unexpected. It's the same crap that's been out there since the early '70s, just wrapped up in glittery new paper. Six Feet Under is a show that people watch so they can feel proud of themselves for watching it. It's a show that, rather than encouraging people to think, allows them to believe that their thinking. As for HBO's other original series -- Deadwood should be applauded for giving Keith Carradine a good role. He's one of my favorite actors, largely as a result from films like Nashville, The Long Riders, and various Alan Rudolph films that nobody ever seems to have heard of. And the show has given good roles to some of my other favorite actors as well -- Tim Olyphant, Powers Boothe, William Sanderson, Brad Dourif, and some others that I'm forgetting at the moment. But then you run into Ian McShane, an English actor who, no matter what role he's been cast in, always comes across like he's playing the villain during one of the first, mediocre seasons of Dr. Who, as this western's foul-mouthed, Tony Soprano-wanna be and soon the whole thing becomes nothing less than an hour-long Saturday Night Live skit. What if The Sopranos went back to the Old West and James Gandolfini was replaced by a villain from the first season of Dr. Who?

Still, the strength of the Sopranos this season (after the admittedly mixed results of last season), almost justifies the continued existence of television. After being one of those shadowy background characters for the past couple of years, Johnny Sack has really come into his own as a rival to Tony. As opposed to last season where they made Ralph into such a buffoon that it ended up eliminating any menace from the character, Johnny has been allowed to become a truly multi-layered bad guy. It's hard not to like the guy even while you're busy hating him and, as opposed to Ralphie with his ugly suits and his obvious hair piece, you never doubt that this guy could not only survive but thrive in the Mob. Edie Falco's Carmela has actually been allowed to become a human being again after being forced to spend last year falling into pathetic lust with every single male who happened to show up on screen for over two minutes. Gandolfini, of course, is still the man and -- after being treated like a joke last season -- Tony Sirico's Paulie is finally back in full force as the hilarious yet frightening force of befuddled nature that he was back when the season first started. For all the praise this show has gotten, I've always felt that Sirico has never been given his due. It probably helps that he has his own criminal past to draw on but, to me, Sirico's performance has always epitomized what the show has to say about the modern day state of both the Mafia and American society in general -- well-meaning but amazingly destructive if spun the wrong way.

This season, of course, has been dominated by the so-called Class of '84, the legions of gangsters who are getting out of prison after being caught in the government's last big Mob crackdown of the '80s. Along with adding a fascinating generational conflict to the show, it's provided roles for a host of brilliant actors -- every one of which, at some point over the past few seasons, I've found myself wondering why they weren't already on the show. The obvious example, of course, is Steve Buscemi as Tony's cousin, also named Tony. Buscemi is an actor who has reached the point in his career where people cast him simply because he is Steve Buscemi and his name carries a certain Holy Grail-appeal with a select group of fans. Call it the Christopher Walken Factor. What continues to impress me is that even though he doesn't have to, Buscemi still continues to craft good performances in these films -- he's never allowed himself to simply just be "Steve Buscemi, popping up in another indie film." Unlike a lot of cult actors, Buscemi still continues to make each role an individual performance. While his roles in Fargo, reservoir Dogs, and other films may all be easily unidentifiable as "Steve Buscemi-parts," he's never coasted by simply on the basis of being Steve Buscemi. I realized this tonight as I watched him on The Sopranos (as small as his role was on tonight's episode) and realized that his character here was miles away from Mr. Pink or Fargo's talkative kidnapper, or the psycho in Con Air or -- Hell, even the reporter in Rising Sun. And there are others -- Frank Vincent, who has been killed in so many Martin Scorsese films, showed up to shoot Patti D'Arbanville not once but twice this season. Joe Santos, late of the Rockford Files and one of my favorite piece-of-crap movies, Fear City, has had a few good scenes and Rudy Vallee showed up tonight. (I wasn't wearing my glasses so I didn't recognize the character as Vallee but then I heard the voice.)

However, of all these new gangsters, the most impressive of the whole lot was Robert Loggia, an actor who -- until this new season began -- I actually thought had died some time last year. I don't know why I thought that (I also was recently corrected, via e-mail, for reporting the death of the still-breathing Phillip Jose Farmer in a book review I wrote over on Amazon) but I'm glad to see I was wrong. Playing the crude, past-his-prime monster Feech LaManna, Loggia is quite simply amazing. The last significant role I saw Loggia in before this season was in David Lynch's Lost Highway. Loggia played a similar character in that film and, as much as I loved that film (and I think I may be in a minority of one as far as that's concerned), I was always disappointed by Loggia's performance in the film. Loggia was playing the film's villain, a distant cousin of Blue Velvet's Dennis Hopper but, unlike Hopper who always seemed to be on the verge of killing his costars for real, you never really bought the idea of Loggia as anything other than an actor making an extra buck by playing a gangster. To me, his performance carried no sense of real menace or danger and it hurt the entire film. (Others that I've discussed this with think that the film was damaged more by an incoherent storyline and excessive length than by Loggia.) However, his performance is the past three episodes of The Sopranos, are everything I felt he wasn't in Lost Highway. Despite the fact that his character hadn't even been mentioned until the beginning of this season, Loggia's performance has managed, in my mind at least, to dominate both this season and the entire series taken as whole.

Other than the Sopranos, the only other thing I've seen these past couple of days that managed to leave me anything other than bored was Rob Zombie's controversial little slasher flick, House of a 1000 Corpses, which showed up on Cinemax yesterday morning. I don't know quite how to respond to this film. In many ways, the film is absolute shit. The performances are poor, the first hour or so drags and is filled with humor that falls flat. There's a nasty sadism running through it -- unlike most slasher films, it never attempts to disguise the fact that it's getting off on the pain shown on screen. In many ways, this is a truly ugly film. However, it is one of the only horror films (probably the only slasher film) to actually have the guts to allow it's story to run to it's natural conclusion. All slasher films are basically stories about people being horribly murdered and -- whether it's admitted or not -- all slasher films encourage us to find entertainment in the ending of human lives. But most films disguise this by dressing it all up with jokey humor or by winking at the audience or by drawing out the stalking sequences to ludicrous lengths just to quickly cut away once we run the risk of actually seeing the results of that stalking. It's a cop-out, designed to protect the viewers from having to admit that basically they're getting off on sadism, on watching a glamorized recreation of, basically, what John Wayne Gacy did to little boys in reality. It's funny to think that, when Ted Bundy invaded a Florida campus and brutally murdered two beautiful, young women in a Sorority House, we cheered his execution but then paid money to watch an actor in a hockey mask do essentially the same thing in the latest installment of Friday the 13th. Well, say what you will about Zombie's film, when the victims get killed here, the camera doesn't cut away. Instead, these characters die horribly as we watch and, as bad the performances may have been, they all suffer very convincingly. In short, it is a slasher movie without any of the reality-denying tricks that other films have used to give the audiences an easy out. The House of 1000 Corpses was far too poorly produced to ever truly be scary but, because it actually shows what the genre usually encourages the audience to imagine, it's also one of the most disturbing films to come out over the past few years. I don't know if that's enough to give this film any sort of value and I'm not going to fool myself into believing that whatever power the film may have was, in any way, the result of any higher intentions on the part of the filmmakers. However, for what it is worth, it does stand as an interesting response to mainstream horror films like Scream. I don't have any desire to see the film again and I can't say I'm glad to have seen it the first time but at least it gave me something to waste my time contemplating other than who Simon Crowell's going to call "A complete waste of talent" next week. 
Saturday, March 27, 2004
  Friday morning I went back to the doctor for my follow-up and I discovered that this is going to be a helluva lot worse than I suspected. See, I assumed that all the cutting and slicing and draining was completed when I went in on Thursday. I figured that now it would just be a case of taking the antibiotics they gave me, using the painkillers for about a week, and letting the wound heal up over the next couple of days.

So very wrong. As opposed to the two hours of pain I had to endure on Thursday, this last visit only lasted for thirty minutes but it was a lot more intense, mostly because I sincerely thought the worst was behind me. Instead, after the nurse took off the bandages covering my shoulder, I was told to lie down on my stomach once again. The doctor -- still a wonderful woman who I'd probably be massively in love with if the circumstances of our meetings weren't so downright disgusting -- then proceeded to open the wound back up and forced more puss (ugh! This has got to be one of the most revolting life experiences ever!) out of the bleeding hole in my back and apparently, this is going to be a nearly daily occurrence for me 'til this hole in my shoulder contains nothing but blood which basically means that I'm going to be visiting the doctor so that they can keep a deep gash on my shoulder from properly healing.

When it's all over, I guess this story will be my equivalent to the tale every aging jock seems to tell about how he scored five touchdowns in high school despite playing on a broken ankle. Unfortunately, I don't think my story is going to contain any rewards from any imaginary cheerleaders...

Supposedly, I can go back to work tonight though only on limited duty. The doctor gave me a list of things that I cannot do and basically, she has forbidden me (until after my next visit on Monday) from doing my job. I cannot lift -- and I don't mean that I can't lift anything over 10 pounds or anything like that. I mean that I am not supposed to pick anything up period. I am not to move my right arm excessively. I am not -- under any circumstances -- supposed to risk getting the wound wet or in any way dirty (obvious, I know, but difficult with my job). I am not operate any type of machinery as long as I'm on the painkillers. I cannot push or pull anything that weighs over five pounds.

THAT'S MY ENTIRE JOB! Anyway, I'm probably going to stay home on Saturday but I need to drop by the store and show the store managers the note from the doctor. Technically, I'm a night manager as opposed to being a stocker so I don't really have to do anything other than tell other people what to do. But realistically, a night manager is just a stocker who happens to have the keys to the store for ten hours and, with the antibiotics and the painkillers, I'm honestly a little bit too doped up to be much of a manager. As well, the store's other night manager -- who I call Sloth -- works on Saturday as well so it's not as if there won't be anyone else around to run the night crew tonight if I don't go in. Still, I know that my bosses will probably give me a hard time about not going in tonight but really -- what is the point if I can't do anything? I'd rather get some rest and heal up than spend ten hours stressed out and unable to do anything.

(Mainly what I'm dreading is the fact that at least one of the store directors -- there's four of them -- will probably tell me to work through the pain and act as if, as a manager, I have no right to put my health before the store. Oh well -- fuck 'em.)

Anyway, I haven't done much else today. As much as I was looking forward to being off work and hoping that maybe I'd be able to get something accomplished, these painkillers have really knocked me on my ass. The label said they might cause dizziness and drowsiness but Christ -- I've never felt so drunk and not drunk in a good, life-of-the-party was either. This is pure, 9th-grade-what-have-I-done-oh-shit-I-hope-there-aren't-any-girls-watching type drunk.

So, I've spent too much time passed out but luckily, I have been able to awaken enough to do some reading. I just finished Chiefs by Stuart Woods, a book that had it's moments but, on the whole, I didn't care much for. It's a crime novel that takes place, over the course of forty years, in rural Georgia. A great deal of the book deals with racism which, considering the setting and all, makes sense but Woods is too much of a white liberal to actually write honestly about it. Therefore, all the black characters are Sidney Poitier-inspired cardboard cut-outs (except for a few Stepin Fetchit like stereotypes -- blacks in liberal Southern novels can either be saints or fools but they never seem to get a chance to be human) and all the whites are unrepentant racists except for the book's protagonists who -- somehow -- happen to be thoroughly enlightened. For a book about race, only one of the many major characters is black and he is defined by his sterling friendship with all the heroic whites. Don't get me wrong -- Woods is a good storyteller and he comes up with an intriguing plot but -- and this book is 20 years old so maybe this is no longer the case -- he sells out on the issue of the culture of racism that used to dominate the rural South and unfortunately, that issue is pretty much the heart of the book.

(The main reason that race continues to be such a huge problem in this country is because everyone's more interested in showing off how tolerant they are as opposed to actually defining and dealing with the issue...)

After I finished Chiefs earlier today, I started on a book that -- unlike Stuart Woods' novel -- I hadn't even heard of until I happened to stumble across it a few nights back at Half-Price books. I was specifically looking for books dealing with the way various law enforcement agencies are organized and how they work (or don't work) together on various cases (such as the missing person's case that is at the center of the novel I should be working on right now). So, I was in the Criminal Justice center, looking through all of these worn college text books (almost all seriously out-of-date and riddled with obscene doodles from bored SMU and U. of Dallas students of the past) when I came across a beat-up paperback novel that somebody had randomly stuffed into the shelf. By one Abraham Rodriguez, the book's title is The Buddha Book and it deals with two Puerto Rican teenagers living in New York, one the son of an incarcerated drug dealer, the other the stepson of an ambitious high school vice principal. These two friends publish an underground comic called the Buddha Book which reveals the truth of various seamy incidents that happen in their world and this book -- apparently -- deals with the incident that inspires the final issue. One of the artists murders his girlfriend. I'm only 75 pages into the book at this point (it's a little under 300 pages long) but this book has already hooked me. It's too early for me to say anything about this book's ultimate worth but so far, this has been an absolutely brilliant read. Rodriguez has already brought his world to brilliant life for me, in a way that Woods -- writing about a culture that I already know quite well, dealing with places that I already know -- never did. So far, race and culture have been at the heart of Buddha Book as well but -- unlike Woods and so many other well-meaning writers -- Rodriguez never allows his own good intentions to compromise the story. Whereas the black characters in Chiefs seemed to exist solely to help define the white characters as either heroes or villains, the characters in the Buddha Book actually seem to live on the page as characters. Rodriguez, admirably, has shown how his character's ethnic heritage has helped to shape and influence their world views without allowing that heritage to take the place of individual personalities and emotional complexity.

The best recommendation I can give to the Buddha Book -- unlike so many other novels, I'm actually looking forward to picking it back up and continuing to read it. So, thank you -- whoever you may be -- thank you for sticking that book in on the wrong shelf. 
Friday, March 26, 2004
  For those keeping track, I do not have cancer and am no closer to sudden, tragic demise than I was that time I suspected I might be visited by a recently fired and disgruntled coworker. I really don't want to go too much more into the whole cancer scare thing just because I don't want to trivialize the fact that there's countless people out there who aren't as lucky as me.

As for what this whole health scare actually was and why I'm sitting at home, writing on my blog, and watching my DVD of Donnie Darko as opposed to being at work as I usually am every Friday morning -- basically, what I had was a cyst (God, I hate that word though not as much as the word boil) on my right shoulder that got infected and irritated to the extent that by the time I got off work yesterday morning, I couldn't even move the fingers on my right hand without finding myself in a world of agony. Literally, even wearing a shirt was almost too much pain to handle.

So, I went to the clinic where I get my ADD prescription refilled every month and, long story short, I spent the next two and a half hours shirtless and lying on my stomach while a doctor (a very beautiful African woman with an intoxicating accent and a flirtatious manner that made it all the more upsetting that -- for most of our time together -- she was staring down at a big ugly lump growing out of my shoulder like some vengeful Siamese twin from a Stephen King story) drained fluid, deadened skin, and eventually ended up digging a hole into my back with a scalpel. She advised me not to turn my head to the right because it was quote, "A very deep hole," and if I was tempted to check it out for myself, that temptation was soon erased when I saw the amount of blood on that small scalpel.

Every few minutes, she'd ask me, "Are you okay?" I'd assure her I was, that I just hadn't had any sleep, I'm shy anyway, and I just don't talk a lot in general. "This is very painful procedure," she told me. And it was, despite the skin being numbed. Anyway, the doctor told me she was amazed that I took the whole procedure as well as I did as "Every other man I've ever done this to -- they scream and cry." I don't know if she was flattering me though I will admit that men are wimps when it comes to pain. I used to be the same way, up until a few years back when I had to get thirty-something stitches put in my forehead after accidentally severing three arteries and nearly bleeding to death (long story). Now, that was pain and the only reason I don't remember screaming and crying while getting those stitches is because I don't want to. But after surviving that, having a hole ("a deep hole," the doctor assured me) dug in my back for nearly two hours is a cakewalk! The only time that the pain got a little bit intense (from my point of view) was at the end of the whole procedure when a needle of "antibiotics" (so they said, I suspect this was plain sadism) was jammed into my right ass cheek but the less said about the better. (So, why say anything about it at all? Screw it, I'm on too many medications right now to be intelligent...)

Anyway, right now, I am on a combination of antibiotics and painkillers (they gave me the same stuff that keeps landing Matthew Perry in rehab) and despite all the drugs, I am still sore as Hell. I've got to go back tomorrow for the doctor to repack the wound and my shoulder is so heavily bandaged that I can barely move my right arm. Hence, I've been walking around with my arm extended, almost frozen in front of me. A word for how I look right now? Stupid. Yeah, that works.

The good part of this though is that the doctor gave me a written excuse to stay home tonight and tomorrow which means I get two days off with sick pay. In all probability, it's going to be at least two weeks before I can do any heavy lifting (she'll give me a detailed list of what I can and cannot do when I go back this afternoon) or -- well, really just about everything I usually end up doing every week Wednesday through Saturday. In short, at least half a month of being on "light duty" -- something I'd be very happy about if I was still just not a stocker but now that I'm a manager, all I can think about is how me not being able to stock is going to make it even more difficult for my crew to get off work on time (which means overtime pay for them and angry bosses with budget reports for me...)

So, in summation -- I'm not dying, I'm going to enjoy my two days off (Other than my vacation, I haven't gotten to spend a Friday outside of Wal-Mart in three years!), and cyst is a really disgusting word.

THANK YOU AND GOODNIGHT! 
Wednesday, March 24, 2004
  Not in much of a mood to go to work tonight. Nothing new there, right? Right now, I'm not in much of a mood to do much other than stress out over my health and deal with my own rarely acknowledged mortality. Around five this morning, before I went to bed, I happened to discover a lump on the back of my shoulder and -- Christ, I just hate typing that! Lump -- that is the ugliest word in the English language, isn't it? Or at least, right now it is. Right now, I hate that word more than any other word. Anyway, I went to sleep assuming that I'd wake up and the thing would be gone but of course, that never works.

Anyway, you can probably guess what the big worry on my part is right now, particularly considering the amount of cigarettes I go through in one day. Anyway, there's not a whole lot I can do about it other than get it looked at by a doctor on Monday (that'll be my first day off after the weekend) and just take whatever steps may be necessary from that point on.

What's strange about this whole experience is that I know that it's probably not going to turn out to be cancer and I really don't want to spend too much time using this blog to speculate on whether or not it is if just out of respect for those who actually are fighting that disease at that moment. And I certainly don't want to try to start a pity party for myself here on the web over something that hasn't even been close to confirmed (or discounted, have to add that, don't we?) as of yet. What's not bugging me is the slim chance that it could be something serious as much as the fact that this morning, I suddenly woke up and discovered that I'd reached the point in my life where that possibility, however slim, was still a possibility.

Anyway, the more I try not to think about this thing, the more I do. Right now, I sit here envying those who actually have the strength of faith necessary to "leave it in God's hands." I'm jealous of those who could handle this with a prayer because I know that even if I pray all the way 'til Monday, I don't posess the sureness of belief in a benevolent higher power for those prayers too make much difference and, sadly I must admit, I also realize that it's going to take a lot more than just a health scare for me to get that faith. (Deism is a great philosophy to follow if you're trying to justify religious belief logically but, when it comes to fear, isolation, and emotional turmoil, it ain't worth shit.) From a practical point of view, I guess I could hope that from this, I'll finally develop the inner strength and determination to quit smoking before I actually do end up killing myself.

But I'll be honest with you -- as I type this, I'm already looking over at the sliding glass door of my den and planning to step outside for a quick cigarette. Right now, the pleasure I get from smoking is the only thing that I know is going to remain the same regardless of what happens over the next couple of days. That's the appeal of addiction, I suppose. While everything else seems to be constantly in a state of change and uncertainty, our addictions always remain the same.

They're the one thing that you know, no matter what, you'll never lose. 
Monday, March 22, 2004
  I've actually been avoiding the current Presidential contest this year which is a first for me. My lack of excitement about the whole thing can be evidenced by the fact that I nearly talked myself into not only voting in the Democratic primary but into actually voting for Dennis Kucinich as well! Well, I decided to remedy that problem during my days off from work and I have spent a great deal of time since Sunday browsing every resource I could come across concerning the 2004 election. The end result: I am now so unbelievably bored by the whole thing that I have discovered a new form of exciting entertainment -- discovering just how bored one human being can become before he slips into a state of catatonia. This incoming coma, I hope, will be studied by research scientists for years to come and hopefully will eventually become known as Kerry Paralysis.

Over the past couple of days, I have spent far too much time reading about the various exploits of John F. Kerry and I must admit that I am now feeling just a little bit brain-fried. I was no Al Gore fan but at least there was a discernible mission behind his Presidential campaign. Unfortunately, that mission happened to be Gore's own messiah complex but, and again I am not a fan of the former Vice President, there was no doubt that Gore sincerely believed that it was his destiny to save the world by getting elected President. If at times it seemed like Bush's main reason for running was to redeem his family name, at least that was a mission and not necessarily a pointless one when you consider that redeeming the Bushes also meant repudiating not only the policies of Bill Clinton but the self-destructive style he brought to the practice of American democracy. But Kerry -- has anyone asked this man why he's running for President other than the fact that he apparently doesn't have anything else left to do? Has anyone asked why Democrats are rallying to this man beyond the fact that he's not a Republican or, more specifically, a Bush? There's something disturbing about the fact that the only real reason John Kerry is currently a strong contender to lead the free world is that Howard Dean ended up making an ass out of himself for a few minutes in Iowa.

There's been a lot of speculation, as of late, on just what exactly it is that John Kerry stands for. A wise man would probably say that, if after 30 plus years on the public stage, a leader still doesn't stand for anything than that figure has probably surrendered his right to be a leader. Over the past weekend, after reading about his accident on the ski slopes and his attempts to bond with the common man through shopping for a better jock strap, I've come to the conclusion that just as Dean was the activist candidate, Lieberman the moderate candidate, Kucinich the peace candidate, and Sharpton the black candidate, Kerry is none other then the Muppet Candidate.

He seems real but just quite isn't.

The question I've been avoiding for far too long is who do I really support in 2004. Obviously, for me at least, Kerry is out of the question. It's not that I wouldn't ever vote for someone whose politics might differ from mine. After all, I was nearly a Republican for Kucinich but a vote for Kucinich would have been the equivalent of when, in my teenage years, I would skip study hall and hang out behind the high school, smoking Marlboro Reds and drinking cheap beer. You'd get a funny little buzz and spend the rest of the day feeling like a rebel and the real damage done would be minimal. Researching Kerry, you're left with the impression that the man's never had a funny little buzz in his life. Until recently, I was a very enthusiastic Bush supporter but as of late, I've started to worry that his administration -- like his father's -- has been drifting, randomly going from issue to issue with no real plan or destination in sight. I think that, in the days following 9-11, Bush was perhaps one of the greatest Presidents this nation will ever be lucky enough to know. I also think that a lot of that greatness is currently being squandered in the morass of Iraq (though anyone who says we didn't do the world a favor by toppling Hussein needs to get their head examined) and on pointless crusaders like the current moves against gay marriage.

Well, where do we go from there? Third parties? Well, third parties were all the rage for about eight years there, weren't they? Perot helped to elect Clinton in '92 and Nader certainly elected Bush in 2000. As for '96, the Reform Party was pretty much irrelevant but it was still a lot of fun watching Perot popping up like some sort of demonic little Leprechaun and screwing Richard Lamm, the amazingly annoying former Governor of Colorado, out of that party's Presidential nomination. So, third parties aren't totally irrelevant though anyone who thinks that any independent is going to be elected during our lifetime is truly fooling himself. So, how is the fringe looking for 2004?

Well, Ralph Nader's running again. This time, he's not even running as a Green but as a true independent. In short, he's running as just pure Ralph Nader. Of course, if Kerry is the kid who wouldn't smoke outside the high school, Nader's the kid who snitched on all the smokers and who made sure his hallway monitor sash was crisp and clean every single morning. So, forget about Ralph.

As for the once mighty Reform Party -- well, their relevance can be judged from the fact that there's a large movement in what is left of the party to convince Ralph Nader to come run on their ticket. Jesus Christ, how do you go from worshipping Ross Perot to nearly nominating Dick Lamm to rallying behind Pat Buchanan to courting Ralph Nader in only 12 years time!? The answer reveals why the Reform Party was doomed to fizzle out. It's a party full of frustrated politicians, of former Republicans and Democrats who were too flaky to make it in their original parties and who basically went off and formed their own social club. They're the Chess Club of American politics, linked not by any real ideology but instead by a sort of self-righteous bitterness that finds it's outlet by latching onto various demi-nerds, people who aren't cool enough to screw cheerleaders but have still managed to make it to a point where they can walk down the school hallway without getting their books slapped out of their hands -- the Ross Perots, the Pat Buchanans, and now, the Ralph Naders. In short, the Reform Party is currently a bunch of reformers who have no idea what exactly it is they're trying to reform.

Anyway, recent reports had Nader turning down the Reformers which means they'll probably end up nominating one of their state chairmen -- an 80 year-old guy named Ted Weill who seems well-meaning but is still basically just some 80 year-old guy with a lot of free time on his hands.

As for Nader's former home -- the Green Party! Yeah, everyone just seems to love the Green Party. They're like the kids who go spend their week wearing uniforms and studying catcheisms at an exclusive private school and then spend their weekends dressing in black, coating their eyes with dark mascara, and listening to Marilyn Manson. They're the party for people who want to change the real world without ever having to actually live in it. Anyway, there's a move in that party to draft Nader as well. If they can't convince Nader, they're party will probably end up nominating either David Cobb, a Texan who probably won't make much of a blip beyond giving the rest of America the chance to actually see what a Liberal Texan looks like, or just maybe Peter Camejo, the obscenely rich Marxist who some people noticed when he ran in last year's recall election in California. Camejo will apparently be California's favorite son candidate at the upcoming Green Convention which leads to the unavoidable question -- the Greens have favorite sons!? Anyway, a Camejo Campaign would be handicapped by the fact that he's an obscenely rich Marxist and Americans only vote for obscenely rich Marxists when they're Democrats.

Let's see -- who else is there? The Natural Law Party is a New Age party that appears to be some sort of weird conspiracy designed to unite the world under the rule of the Beatles' former spiritual guru. John Hagelin, the party's leader and perennial candidate, withdrew from the race early on and endorsed none other than Dennis Kucinich. There have been rumors that Kucinich might end up as the Natural Law's Presidential candidate. I don't think it'll happen but if it did -- would I be tempted once again to vote for Kucinich? Uhmmm, probably not. Much like the time I refused to cut (or comb) my hair for two years and spent most of my time locked in my dorm room, smoking pot and listening to Jim Morrison singing The End, Kucinich was a passing fad. Fun while it lasted but definitely over when it was over.

For those of you who think the U.S. constitution was designed to outlaw gay marriage, there's the Constitution Party. Formerly known as U.S. Taxpayers, this is the party that basically makes conservatives like myself cringe. They're everything that the national media claims the Republicans are. Right now, it looks as if the Constitution will be nominating -- notice a theme developing here? -- a state party chair that nobody's ever heard of but there's a chance that the nomination might go to Ray Moore, the former Alabama Supreme Court Justice who refused to take down the Ten Commandments. (Strange how Moore's actions were labeled the work of an ideological extremist yet all the Mayors across the nation performing illegal marriages -- regardless of whether they should be illegal or not -- are not...) I am kind of hoping that Moore does run and that the Constitution Party does become a minor factor this year if just to get the Republicans to back off this whole gay marriage fiasco...

That leaves the Libertarians. I am a dues-paying member of the Libertarian Party and, even though I couldn't give an exact count, I've probably voted for as many Libertarian candidates as I've voted for various Republicans over the years. But only once -- in 1992, the first Presidential campaign I was eligible to vote in -- have I ever voted Libertarian for President. (That, for all you trivia fans out there, candidate was Andre Marrou who, so far, I think is the only Alaskan to ever pop up on a national ballot.) I voted for Dole in '96 and G.W. Bush in 2000. Basically, I love the Libertarian Party. Judging strictly by political belief, the Libertarian Party is my natural home and, of all the "major" minor parties out there, the Libertarians probably have the best potential to actually become a major party at some point in the near future. However, the problem is just that. The Libertarians have had that potential for over thirty years now and they've squandered it on petty in-fighting. Instead of focusing on spreading their message of personal freedom, they're allowed themselves to get caught up on proving that they've read more Ayn Rand than the next guy. (And let me just say, as a Libertarian, that Ayn Rand is -- without a doubt -- one of the worst writers in recent literary history. It is true that Rand's original language was not English and I find that comforting as I'd hate to think anyone could write that badly in their native tongue. There -- I've been waiting four years to find an excuse to use that statement somewhere.) Mark Twain once said that he's be a Christian if it weren't for other Christians and I think the same thing can be said for many potential Libertarians.

Still, for all of my frustrations, the Libertarians might be getting my Presidential vote this year. The three main candidates -- Gary Nolan, Aaron Russo, and Michael Badnarik -- are all nicely inoffensive and I could see myself casting a ballot for either of them. Right now, my inclination is to support Aaron Russo for the nomination. Don't get me wrong -- I know that Aaron Russo will not be our next President but of all the candidates running, he seems like he'd be the strongest messenger. If the Libertarians can't win in 2004, then the real mission of this year's campaign should be to help the party grow, to help lay down the foundation on which the Libertarians can finally start to become the major player they should have become years ago. At the very least, Russo has the money, charisma, and support to at least play the role of spoiler in a close race and hopefully, much as the Greens have pushed the Democrats towards the left, help push the Republicans back towards a more Libertarian direction.

So, for what it is worth, I am endorsing Aaron Russo for the Libertarian Presidential nomination. I do this with the full knowledge that it'll probably make not a damn bit of a difference. I will also be honest enough to admit that I've had a poor track record when it comes to picking nominees. In '92, I cast my primary vote for Pat Buchanan (this was before Pat went nuts and, I should note, this was also during my previously mentioned long-haired, pothead phase so don't judge me to harshly). In '96, my candidate for the Republican nod was Indiana's competent but bland Sen. Richard Lugar who didn't even make it down to Texas. After Lugar dropped out, I switched to Steve Forbes (remember him?). In 2000, my nomination was like a groupie following Led Zeppelin in the '70s in that pretty much got traded from one guy to another for a good couple of months until the whole thing was over with. I started out as a supporter of U.S. Rep. John Kasich who dropped out after being a candidate for about an hour or two. I then went over to former Vice President Dan Quayle who decided he'd rather go hang out with John Kasich. Lamar Alexander, my endorsement shouted, how ya doing? Alexander actually had my vote for a while until he too dropped out a few months later (though I think he might have actually made it all the way to the first primary before giving up). Then, I was supporting Steve Forbes -- yet again -- for a few weeks before he dropped out and I finally ended up voting for Bush in the Republican primary largely because John McCain reminded me of a frustrated Jehovah's Witness, jamming his foot in the doorway and demanding to know why you wouldn't let him save your soul from damnation. And of course this year -- well, the less the whole Kucinich thing is brought up the better.

So, anyway --

Congratulations, Aaron Russo! You've won the highly coveted Jeffrey Paul Ellis Presidential Endorsement for 2004!

To quote Ian McShane in the ludicrously profane new HBO series Deadwood, run for your fucking life. 
Saturday, March 20, 2004
  No sooner do I write that work has been going well than I suddenly find myself trapped in the literal night from Hell. This was yesterday when I had a huge truck to get stocked and myself and my crew ended up staying an hour and ten minutes late! Just like old times. Hopefully, this will be an exception and will not, as in the past, become the norm. It didn't help matters that one of our former cashiers -- we'll call her Joanna because that's her name and I'm not in a charitable enough mood towards this person to be nice and privacy-protective -- is now a crack whore and she spent the entire night calling the store, claiming to be yet another former cashier, and begging us to allow her "son" to get a refund on a carton of cigarettes so she could get gas money for a trip to Oklahoma (or New Mexico or Wyoming or any of the other twenty locations she gave at various times). Eventually, I had to tell my night cashiers to just stop answering the phone all together. Hence, the entire night, as I struggled to remain calm even as I saw the clock ticking closer and closer to 7:00 a.m., the ringing of that phone echoed throughout the otherwise empty store, like some kind of mantra of pure pointless waste. But maybe I needed a night like this just to remind myself why I hate working overnight in the first place.

And the lesson of today's abbreviated entry? If you want me to give you money to buy crack, at least have the common decency to get your pathetic lies straight first! 
Friday, March 19, 2004
  Work has gone pretty well this week -- I never realized how much certain members of my night crew were making a relatively simple job impossible until I helped to get them fired. Wow, that sounds awful, doesn't it?

Still, even though things are no longer Hellish, I'm still pretty burned out on working nights -- three years is just too long to go without getting to see the sunrise. Turns out I'm not alone in being burned out as last night, when I first arrived at the store, one of my bosses (I have four -- the store director and than three assistant managers) ended up talking to me for about thirty minutes about how much he hates his job, how much coming to work depresses him, and he told me that he was thinking of just quitting. I felt bad for the guy because I knew exactly what he was feeling but at the same time, I didn't know what to say to make him feel better. To be honest, my first (unspoken) response was to point out that even though we both pretty much feel trapped in our current positions, he still managed to move higher up than I did before that trap was sprung. For the most part, he talked about how he felt like -- for all his hard work -- he'd never make it all the way to store manager. Meanwhile, all I could think about, was just how far away I am from even making it up to assistant manager. We also talked about our own individual salaries. I'm paid by the hour, the assistant managers are paid a salary -- a set amount of money regardless of how many hours they work during the pay period. As we talked about this, it quickly became apparent that -- counting in the overtime that I get almost every week -- I make about two dollars more per hour than my boss.

This discovery led to an awkward moment but, at the same time, it ended the conversation before we ended up getting too consumed by self-pity so, in the end, it was for the best. For me, at least. Anyway, I did try to assure the guy that he was a good manager and I encouraged him not to give up and this led to another discovery -- I really suck at being supportive.

Still, it is nice to know that I'm not the only manager at that store who hates having to walk through those sliding glass doors every day.

After that little conversation, I actually had a pretty good night at work. My crew did their job well, I did my job adequately (whatever my job happens to be -- the important thing is that the store is still standing and nobody's suing us), and we got finished early. I sent my night crew home a little bit before six a.m. and that left me with an hour to just sit out on the back loading dock, smoke a few cigarettes, and act cocky whenever any of the day workers asked me where my crew was.

I got home around 7:30 and had to do something that scars the conscience of every pet owner. I had to take my new cat (his name is Hidey and, like almost every animal I've ever owned, he's a former stray who pretty much decided to move in with me) down to the vet for his -- well, for his operation. You know -- the operation. I don't want to say anything else about it though I was a little bit disturbed by the fact that, as I left Hidey sitting there in his carrier, in the back of the vet's office, he didn't seem to be all the upset to see me leaving. Left me feeling just a little bit taken for granted. Anyway, I don't want to think about what's going to be happening in a few hours down at that vet's office. Hidey will be asleep during the operation, of course. Hopefully, when he wakes up and I go back to the vet's to pick him up, he won't notice anything different.... 
Thursday, March 18, 2004
  Actress Mercedes McCambridge is dead. Most of the obits that I've seen (very few as I just learned of the actress's death about ten minutes ago when I skimmed by the entertainment news on Yahoo), have centered around her providing the voice of the demon in The Exorcist. And while that was quite possibly the best voice-over performance in the history of American film (Certainly far more Oscar worthy as Robin Williams' supposedly snubbed turn in Aladdin many years later), it has overshadowed two wonderfully eccentric performances given by this woefully underrated actress. First, there's her turn as the moralistic lesbian in Nicholas Ray's beserkly Freudian western Johnny Guitar. Secondly, yet another menacing lesbian (though, and this is a testament to her ability as a performer, the character's aren't menacing because of whatever innuendo might be present about their sexuality but because McCambridge truly created two truly frightening human beings), this time a leather-clad biker in Orson Welles' Touch of Evil.

Much like her work in The Exorcist, these were two characters who could have been smirkingly played for a sleazy laugh or two and who showed up in films that featured plots that could have easily veered into high camp. The fact that you never laugh at any of these characters and the fact that these films rank as the best American film has to offer is largely due to the unique, never really appreciated talents of Mercedes McCambridge. It's hard to think of any mainstream actress working today who could have brought any of these roles to as brilliant a life as McCambridge.

One thing that's never changed in the movies -- we like our leading ladies to be kooky, wacky, or whatever cutesy term you want to use. We want them to be like Drew Barrymore in an early '90s teen movie -- wild but ultimately safe, a bad girl who is a virgin at heart, a free spirit that yearns to conform. When a genuine eccentric like McCambridge comes along, it seems that no one knows what to do with them. Too talented to be ignored yet too unique to be safe, the career of an actress like Mercedes McCambridge reminds us of the dangers of being unconventional while still never letting us forget just how worthwhile the end results of that risk can be.

RIP, Mercedes McCambridge. 
  As a grocery store night manager, one of the unpleasant things that I have to deal with on a nightly basis are shoplifters. How do I deal with them? To be honest, for the most part, I don't. Don't get me wrong -- I've had to call a few parents to come pick up their kids after someone happens to notice them slipping a pack of cigarettes into their pockets. And there's a few people we know by sight -- mostly toothless white trash types who come into the store half-drunk around three in the morning and just kind of wander around. These guys we've had to deal with enough that I can reasonably sure that they're relatively harmless. When I see them, I just make it a point to always be casually following a step or two behind them and that usually gets rid of them. If following them doesn't work, I just walk up and ask them how they're doing and if I can help them find anything. Most of them are so scared of actually getting into any sort of real trouble that they'll leave as soon as anyone talks to them.

But for the rest of the petty thieves who seem to always find time to stop off at my store, caution usually takes the place of duty. The world's not a safe place -- especially around three in the morning and a lot of late night retail workers have gotten shot over the past couple of years over a pack of cigarettes or six-pack of beer. I vaguely enjoy my job, I do try to do it well, and I appreciate the fact that I'm getting paid way too much money for doing the same work that a trained monkey could probably do for free. I appreciate and I thank the company but I'm still not taking a bullet for the store. In short, if you can get out the front door without paying, congratulations and fuck you.

That being said, the amount of theft at my store is really -- well, it is insane. Right now, we are being plagued by one master criminal in specific. Now, I've never actually seen this guy but I've heard enough about him that I feel like I could identify him in a line-up. Apparently, he is a tall, rather stocky white male in his late '30s/early '40s. He has reddish blonde hair that he wears in a flat-top hair style. As I said, he's a bit overweight and has a large double chin that more or less consumes his entire neck. Most nights, he's usually had a few red shaving nicks across his chin and apparently, he's still trying to master that whole shaving concept as the side of his face is spotted with random splotches of red beard. He usually has his mouth slightly open. As one of the cashiers explained to me, "He just looks really slow and stupid."

He may be stupid but the man apparently is not slow because for the past year or so, once a week, he has come into the store, grabbed a shopping cart, and gone over to aisle seven. Once at aisle seven, he fills up the cart with diapers -- Huggies, size 7. He gets as many diapers as he can into that cart and then he takes off running and, before anyone has barely even noticed him, he rushes through the front doors and pushing the diaper-laden cart in front of him, he disappears down the street. The police have been called on him and have never even been able to find the guy. People -- customers and even a few foolish employees -- have chased him on foot and have never been able to catch up to this overweight, middle-aged man with a diaper-laden shopping cart in front of him. Most disturbingly is the fact that a month ago, one of the store managers -- Rusty -- actually jumped in his pickup truck and chased after the guy and this guy -- get this -- easily managed to outrun the truck.

Well, the guy struck again last night -- a few minutes before I arrived at the store, apparently as when I did arrive at work, everyone was wandering around the store looking for clues and Rusty was cussing up a storm under his breath. But get this -- along with hundreds of diapers, this guy has also been stealing Wal-Mart shopping carts. Well, last night, even as he stole another one, he returned the one he absconded with the previous week. We know this because the cart itself was somewhat infamous in the store because the two front wheels had a nasty habit of freezing up whenever anyone tried to make a left turn. In fact, we were all kinda happy when he stole it last week because there's not an employee at that store who hasn't -- at some point -- tried to push that cart out of the way just to have the damn thing nearly flip over when the wheels suddenly went into lock down.

So, of course, last night, the bastard actually returned it to us, leaving it as a gift out in the parking lot (and yes, it did flip over later in the night when I tried to push it in) and apparently exchanging it for a less defective model.

Now, as annoying as all this melodrama is, I can't help but kinda be happy that this guy has decided to come to my store. After all, everyone needs a nemesis and I think I have found mine. So, enjoy you foul crimes while you may, Diaper Bandit, because your days are numbered. Someday, I will manage to catch you before you get out that door and then, when you're at mercy, that's when you'll have to ask yourself one question. Do you feel lucky?

Well, do you, punk? 
Wednesday, March 17, 2004
  Right now, I'm working on an untitled novel about a young woman who, one December weekend in 1987, vanishes from a small Texas town. This disappearance serves as the catalyst for several other stories that all grow out of this one event. The novel, which actually begins with a prologue set a year or so before this girl's possible abduction, spans the years 1986 to 2000 and while the mystery of the disappearance provides the engine to keep the story moving forward, it's less about the crime and more about how one single event, that lasted perhaps less than a minute, can proceed to dominate and alter and shape the next thirteen years of so many different lives. It is a project that I am very excited about but Christ, doing the research for it has been tough. The storyline itself was inspired by an actual incident that happened back in '87 (though not in Texas) and -- as my plans for this book have become more defined -- I've found myself taking incidents from other real life cases of various missing persons and the such. In short, I've been doing a lot of research on the evil that men do. A cliche yes but there really is no other proper phrase to describe some of the true life crimes that I've come across while researching this book. Since last summer, I've been frequenting sites like the Doe Network, that basically detail the cases of literally thousands of missing persons and -- even more disturbingly -- victims who -- though found -- have never been identified.

It's a strangely fascinating subject but not a happy one. Reading these stories of people who have gone missing, one is suddenly struck with the realization that for every one missing person, there are people who spend every day in a limbo, wondering what happened, wondering how a loved one could be so arbitrarily erased from their lives, spending their days in a grief that I can only imagine. It's hard, for me at least, not too feel a certain sense of guilt as I skim through these cases, a tourist in their world of pain. I doubt the fact that they're tragedies have inspired to me write a novel will be of any comfort. God, it's strange. I know that I want to write this book, I know this is something that I can write well, that this book has the potential to be a work of art I can take pride in. And at the same time, I know that after I've written it, I'm probably going to spend the rest of my life apologizing for it.

As I (think) I said earlier in this entry, this isn't happy research. Morbid doesn't even begin to describe it. It's the little details that I find stick in my mind. There's one girl I can't get out of her mind. A few months after she disappeared, somebody mailed her broken glasses back to her family. Jesus Christ, that haunts me. How could anyone have that much evil, that much hate, within him? Even more disturbing than the realization that there truly are people capable of such sadism out there is the realization that whoever mailed those glasses has never been caught and probably never will be caught. In short, he's out there right now. And even if he did die of natural causes or was sent to jail for something else, it doesn't change the fact that an astronomical number of people go missing every year. We all know that there are evil people out there -- if 9-11 taught us nothing, it taught us that. But the reality of that statement, the fact that evil is more than just a word -- it takes the little details to really bring that home. We can look at some guy hijacker crashing a plane into the World Trade Center and somehow we learn to rationalize that reality under a label like "terrorism" or we can find an explanation in the hijacker's religious beliefs. But how do we explain or understand or rationalize away the fact that somewhere, there's a human being who could mail a missing girl's broken glasses back to her family?

Yes, they're both the product of evil, pure and simple but -- until those little details start bombarding you -- it's easy to forget just what exactly that word means. And after reading about things like that, it's difficult to then turn around and look at the world outside your door the exact same way.

That's what I'm hoping the end result of this novel will be. Once the reader turns the final page, the world outside his or her front door should never look the same again.

It'll never look the same to me again and I know that regardless of whatever happens in the future as far as this book is concerned -- even if it is never written -- I will never forget about the men, women, children, and families that I've come across while researching this book. They're stories haunt me and I know, everyday of my life, I'll be silently praying to a God I far too often take for granted, to give them some answers, to give them the peace that's been so cruelly ripped away from them.

I can't end this without doing something that drives me nuts when other bloggers do it but in this case, there's no way I could live with myself if I didn't play site advocate here. Go to the Doe Network or any of the other missing person sites listed in their links. The cases aren't pleasant but they need to be heard and, if by some chance you might unknowingly hold the key to solving these mysteries, could you really live with yourself if you didn't at least try to do something about it? I wish I could do something more substantial to help all of the families out there that are suffering right now but, other than offering my own prayers, is the best I can do. 
  Now that it is -- let's see here -- 5:08 in the morning down here in Texas, it occurs to me that since I will have to either go to the doctor this afternoon or else to work tonight at 8:00, it would have probably been a good idea for me to have actually been getting some sleep. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of glancing at this week's issue of the Dallas Morning News' TV magazine and discovering that Sid & Nancy, one of the most exhilarating classics of morbid cinema ever filmed, was due to show up on Encore this morning at 3 a.m. Well -- how could I not find the time to catch Gary Oldman wandering around in a heroin-induced stupor while Chloe Webb somehow managed to make you hate her yet still want to cry when her character meets her fate? The film really is about fate to an extent, isn't it? Sid and Nancy were fated to be fucked up and -- at least as far as the film's representation of them are concerned -- you can't really hold it against them. So, anyway, I stayed up and watched it and it's still a great movie (as opposed to other great movies that turn out to be the exact opposite once you actually sit through them) and while I know I should have gotten some sleep, I'm glad I didn't.

However, I think I will now. Encore is currently showing yet another cult film from the past -- Lords of the Flatbush, which has a cult specifically because it stars a pre-Rocky Stallone and a pre-Fonzie Henry Winkler. In short, it's a movie that's probably more fun to talk about ("It's like this movie Stallone made with Fonzie..." followed by fake laughter) than to actually discuss, much less watch.

So, I will now do the right thing and get some sleep. However, before I do that, does anybody remember a pre-Lords of the Flatbush Stallone film called Rebel, where apparently Stallone was some sort of Weatherman type (the film was apparently from the early '70s) who basically did that whole Rambo thing but in the name of social equality as opposed to anticommunism? Some people swear that this film is just an urban legend and it seems to be next to impossible to find a copy of it. (I've read that it was released under several different titles.) However, I swear, I am pretty sure that I actually saw the last five minutes or so of this film one Saturday afternoon back in the early '90s. I seem to remember a very young Stallone, out in the middle of a field, railing against injustice before a very abrupt title crawl told us that he ended up doing some time in prison before being released and hooking up with a girl whose name I cannot remember (This was apparently a very important plot point in the film or else somebody just made that final epilogue up on the spot). I have always kept an eye out for any possibility of that film popping up on another Saturday morning but it hasn't and I haven't been able to find any concrete reference to it anywhere since those five minutes 12 years ago.

(naturally, just as Rebel is amazingly obscure and ignored, Stallone's porno film, A Party at Kitty and Stud's -- which no, I have not seen and no, I have no desire to see -- seems to be the proverbial bit of obscure movie trivia that every idiot on the planet has convinced himself that only he knows about.)

Well, needless to say, catching a full viewing of Rebel has become a bit of a pointless obsession with me and, if so inclined, I could probably use this whole quest as a metaphor for just what exactly is probably wrong with my life. Consider -- I am not a fan of Sylvester Stallone's. It's simplistic to lump all the various factions of '60s liberalism into one category labeled the New Left but then again, that hasn't stopped the majority of Leftist historians from doing just that so I might as well join and say that I do not have much respect for the New Left in general and absolutely no respect for the Weatherman in specific. The five minutes that I saw of the film would have been unwatchable and dull if not for the trivia factor of having Stallone in the film and, since I'm indifferent to the guy and his career, the appeal of that trivia factor was pretty much used up in those five minutes. In short, I am seeking to waste two hours of my life on something that will probably bore me at best and offend me at the worst but yet I have looked for Rebel in the Sunday TV supplement every day since I caught those thuddingly dull five minutes years ago.

Why? The reason goes to the soul of every obsessive-compulsive, self-appointed student of pop culture out there and it's either pathetic or strangely noble depending on how you look at it. I have to see this film not because I have any desire to sit through it but because I know it's out there yet I haven't seen it. It's the same reason why I'll eventually have to read War and Peace. It's there.

Yep, some guys prove their worth by climbing Everest. I track down obscure, bad films starring actors I don't particularly care for -- which I guess is why it was important that I stay up and watch Sid & Nancy tonight. The two hours I spent on that will someday down the road, hopefully, serve to cancel out the two hours I know I'm going to waste on Rebel.

And unfortunately, Lords of the Flatbush is starting to look kinda good. Hell, I can always sleep at the doctor's office.... 
Tuesday, March 16, 2004
  First off, I apologize for not updating this blog sooner. I've spent the last few days pretty much confined to either lying in bed or lying on the couch in the den. While I was lucky enough to not get killed by any disgruntled former employees at work, I did not take into account my limitless ability to overextend and hurt myself. Anyway, long story short, early Sunday morning -- while making sure that all the dog lovers of Richardson, Texas would be able to find several fifty pound bags of dog food waiting for them on the shelves of my little store -- I managed to do something to my left shoulder muscle. At least, I'm assuming that's when it happened. That's the only time I can think of when I really did any sort of excessively heavy lifting.

(You should understand that I was also talking to a certain cashier at this time and, in an attempt to disguise the fact that I am -- above all -- not in very good physical shape, I tossed about ten of these fifty pound bags up into a shelf several feet above my head in about five minutes time and apparently, you shouldn't try to lift five hundred pounds worth of stuff in five minutes time...)

Anyway, all I know for sure is that I did something stupid at some point Sunday morning and ever since then, I have not been able to move my left arm in the slightest without feeling a great deal of agonizing pain. Which means that when I stand up, I am in pain. When I sit down, I am in pain. When I start to lie down, I am in pain. When I am lying down, I am in pain. In short, every minute that I've been awake over the past few days, it's felt like some invisible little demon was stabbing me in the back. Now, I've always had a bad back and -- in the three years since I first started working overnight -- not a day has gone by when I haven't had some ache to show for my efforts. I've cut myself numerous times while using box cutters -- once succeeding in slashing through my right hand all the way down to the bone and, about a year ago, I managed to somehow tear up my right knee to such an extent that it's still swollen up to about three times the size of the left. Basically, I've spent the past three years transforming myself into a chainsmoking, physical wreck of an insomniac. But I can sincerely say that I have never felt a pain as intense or as just plain nagging as what I'm feeling right now in my left shoulder blade.

So tomorrow, if it doesn't get better, I know I'm going to have to go see a doctor about it. The way things are right now, at the very least, I won't be able to toss any more fifty pound bags of dog food around for quite a while. Y'know, what's strange is this. As much as I don't want to find out that I've managed to do some sort of serious damage to my shoulder, there's also a part of me that knows that -- should it be something more than just an annoying ache -- I'll probably be able to get a night or two off from work that I could devote to writing, reading, or just dreaming. As much as I'm hoping that, should I see a doctor tomorrow, this turns out to be nothing serious, I know I'm going to be disappointed if that's the case. 
Saturday, March 13, 2004
  In case anyone's keeping track, I did not get killed at work last night.

In fact, I had forgotten just how enjoyable being in charge can be when you don't have a guy like Darryl (who I -- more or less -- fired earlier this week) around.

Lesson learned? In a nutshell, whenever work is getting tedious or you're starting to feel burned out on the whole career ladder, all you gotta do to bring back that spice back to employment is get someone fired. If I had understood this three years ago when I first got hired on at my store, I could've avoided a lot of ulcers and thrown a few less temper tantrums.  
Friday, March 12, 2004
  Hmmm...isn't it sad when you've got a blog going and suddenly, you realize that you really don't have anything to say? That's the state I've been in for the past two days. I guess if I wanted to, I could tell the full gory details about how I got a member of my night crew at work fired (Basically, the guy left for his lunch hour, vanished, finally returned after two and a half hours, and then threatened to kill another coworker if he "snitched"). This is the first time, since I became a manager, that I directly caused someone working under me to loss his job and it's a rather strange feeling -- a mixture of guilt (because I know that this guy really did need this job) and relief (because I also knew that, despite really needing this job, this guy still chose to behave in a way that made it impossible for him to keep the job). Most disturbing is the feeling of power that had come with this act -- the knowledge that this guy basically fucked with me and it cost him his paycheck, that this guy is going to suffer for making my job difficult. I can now honestly say that I truly understand why most managers quickly become dictators. It's fun! As long as you don't think about it too much and unfortunately, I have a tendency to think too much about everything. It doesn't help that I know this guy probably now wants to kill me and that he knows exactly where I'll be for at least forty hours of each week.

On a happier note, have I mentioned that one of my favorite bloggers links to me from her site and that if you're reading my ramblings right now, you owe it to yourself to jump over to her site and give it a read? The blogger in question is a law student by the name of Shannon Black and I must say that I am in awe of her ability to come up with comments and titles that I usually end up kicking myself for not coming up with first. The title of this blog is Yankee From Mississippi, which I so wish I had come up with and copyrighted years ago so I could use it as the title for some brilliantly ironic piece of gothic prose. As well, I recently discovered that Shannon was moved to comment on my rather bizarre flirtation with endorsing Dennis Kucinich in a piece she entitled Republicans for Kucinich, which -- disturbingly enough -- was actually the title I planned to use if I ended up truly going off the deep end and endorsing the former Mayor of Cleveland. Anyway, you go visit that blog. Meanwhile, since I've got to go to work tonight, I'm going to look into ordering a bullet-proof Wal-Mart vest off the net...


 
Wednesday, March 10, 2004
  This is it -- in a little less than two hours, I'll be leaving my nice, comfortable, house (My Fortress of Solitude, if I might be permitted to reference one of my short stories from my first book) and going back to work. This is the official end of my vacation and for the record, it really, really sucks. (How's that for eloquence?)

Anyway, for those keeping score, here's how my candidates ended up doing in the two seriously contested races in yesterday's primary. Paul Green rather easily defeated incumbent Steven Wayne Smith and will be the Republican nominee for Smith's seat on the state Supreme Court come November. (This being Texas, that's pretty much the same as being elected.)

While Green won, my candidate for Dallas County Sheriff did the exact opposite. In fact, when all the votes were counted, Leonard Bueber not only didn't win the nomination, he came in last with a little over 1% of the total vote. That said, Sheriff Bowles was another incumbent office holder who ended up losing his primary yesterday. He was soundly defeated by one Danny Chandler who will be the Republican nominee come November.

So, final score for me, 1-1. Better than usual, even if Bueber joins such notables as Lawrence Cranberg (my choice for the U.S. Senate in '02) in my collection of primary candidates who -- despite the votes of myself and a handful of others -- not only failed to win the nomination but came in dead last.  
  With Kerry as the de facto nominee, it doesn't appear that anyone's paying any more attention to all the various primaries that are still popping off like clockwork across the country. Nor, I suppose, is there any reason why they should. Unfortunately, we now have now reached the dreadfully dull part of every Presidential primary season when your vote -- if not already cast -- literally does not matter.

Still, I found time to vote in today's primary down here in Texas. As I said earlier, there was a part of me that was dreadfully tempted to vote -- for the first time -- in the Democratic Primary and to cast my vote for Dennis Kucinich as both a way to protest the shallowness of the leading campaigns and to show just how concerned I am about the current situation in Iraq. Though I disagree with Kucinich on just about everything, the fact of the matter was that he was (and is) the only "major" (though Kucinich -- just on the basis of his success so far and his prospects for the future -- has to be considered a very minor major) candidate with any sort of identifiable platform, the only candidate running for the good of America as opposed to running because he felt he could win. It was an idealistic notion on my part and one that probably didn't make a whole helluva lot of sense if subjected to too much realistic analysis.

Still, I was undecided when, Tuesday afternoon, I arrived at Terrace Elementary to cast my vote. Would I vote in the Republican Primary -- as I've done every election year since 1992 -- or would I go over to the other side? You should understand that I've voted in every single election I've been eligible to cast a ballot in for 12 years now. Out of all those votes cast, probably 60% of them have been cast for Republican candidates, 39.9% for Libertarians, and that last sliver of a percentage point represents the ONE time I have ever voted for a Democrat (John Sharp for Lt. Governor in '02). For me -- if nobody else -- this was an earth shattering choice. And as I thought about it, it became more and more apparent that my main reason for voting for Kucinich would have just been the novelty of it all -- the whole idea of an outspoken Libertarian/Republican not only voting in the Democratic Primary but voting for Kucinich of all people!

So, while I still have a lot more respect for Dennis "The Menace" Kucinich than most of the other people running for President this year, it just didn't feel right. I voted in the Republican Primary. (To be honest, if I had voted in the Democratic Primary, Kucinich probably still wouldn't have gotten my vote. That would have gone to Joe Lieberman who remains on the Texas ballot despite the early end of his campaign.) As for the votes I cast, they were fairly anticlimactic as there weren't that many contested races. Mostly it was just incumbents running unopposed for renomination. There was an uncommitted slate running against President Bush in the Presidential Primary but in the end, I decided to stretch my faith just a little bit further and I voted for Bush while silently praying that he actually does have some sort of overall plan as far as Iraq is concerned and that he actually won't try to make this whole gay marriage mess into a major campaign issue.

There were only two truly competitive, contested primaries and, in both cases, I voted against the incumbent office holder. Dallas County Sheriff Jim Bowles has been plagued with accusations of corruption for a while now and seems liable to get indicted any day now. He was being challenged in his primary by 3 credible challengers and I voted for Leonard Bueber, a 66 year-old deputy who works in the county jail and who is probably the least well-known of all the candidates running. Though I know Bueber's chances of victory are slim (he's raised no money, produced next to no publicity for his effort), he still seems like he'd be a good, no-bullshit type of law enforcer. At the very least, he projects a sort of incorruptible aura about him -- something that is sorely needed after two decades or so of Sheriff Bowles.

The other race was for a seat on the Texas Supreme Court and was between two conservative Judges -- Steven Wayne Smith, the incumbent, and Paul Green, an appeals court judge from San Antonio. I voted for Green as Smith has always seemed kinda wacky to me -- the type of Republican who gives Republicans like me a bad name.

And that, in a nutshell, was my adventure in the Democratic Process for Tuesday. I also voted, for the first time, for my new Congressman -- Pete Sessions. As everyone in the world seems to know, last year the Texas legislature redrew the Congressional maps and, as a result, a whole lot of formerly safe Democratic Congressmen are having to run in overwhelmingly Republican districts. I'd get morally outraged here if not for the fact that the Democrats -- when they controlled the state legislature over the course of a century and a half (give or take a few years) -- did the exact same thing every decade as well. So, sorry -- I will not cry just because District 30 no longer resembles some sort of mutated octopus stretching haphazardly across the Democratic neighborhoods of Dallas while somehow totally missing the Republican homesteads right next door.

However, one consequence of this whole redistricting thing is that several citizens are now in different Congressional districts with different Congressmen than whoever they may have vote for or against just last year. If they're anything like me, they probably didn't realize this until they went to vote in their party primary and discovered that -- hey! -- "I live in District 32 instead of District 4!" and -- hey! -- "My Congressman is Pete Sessions and not Sam Johnson!" Actually, most people probably didn't even notice. In my case, I noticed because I was actually planning on voting for Rep. Johnson's primary opponent just to discover that the effort I'd made to research the candidates was pretty much made worthless by my ignorance as to which Congressional District I actually lived in.

Actually, since the great majority of Texas voters did not vote in either party's primary (and, in fact, turn-out was threatening to hit a record low the last time I checked) it is entirely possible that -- right now -- the majority of Texans don't know who the Hell their Congressman is.

For reasons I can't quite explain, I can't help feel that might be for the best. 
Tuesday, March 09, 2004
  After two months of speculation, the body of missing actor/writer Spaulding Gray was found in New York yesterday. It appears that the initial theories of the case (that Gray committed suicide by jumping off a Staten Island Ferry) were correct. I was never a huge fan of Gray's monologues -- they always came across as a bit too much the product of a Manhattan-bred Limosuine Liberal for my tastes but I'd be lying if I said that reading about his depressions, his dissapearance, and finally his discovery hadn't shaken me. From the minute this story first broke, I figured Gray had killed himself but there was a part of me that had this romantic notion that Gray had just decided to leave his life behind and was wandering around the countryside, anonymous and popping up on stage for various community theaters across upstate New York.

Obviously, that notion was just that. A notion. So, Godspeed to you, Spalding Gray, wherever it is you're going. 
Sunday, March 07, 2004
  It's Impossible To Start A Fire is now available off of Amazon! I'll be honest and admit that yes, I actually have spent a bit too much time already staring at the thumbnail of the book's cover on the Amazon web site. Silly, I know but I've dreamed of this for 20 years of my thirty years. (Five years I dreamed of being President and the other five, I dreamed of being a hardboild private detective.) 
Saturday, March 06, 2004
  FREE MARTHA STEWART!

If to be annoying is a crime, then we're all fucked. 
Thursday, March 04, 2004
  Y'know, I've had my new blog up for just a little over a month and in that time, I've made a lot of jokes at the expense of Dennis Kucinich. In fact, early on, I said some extremely negative things about Rep. Kucinich -- comments that, if I don't regret, I would reconsider if I were writing them today. Certainly, it doesn't take a lot of investigation to realize that, with the exception of the current situation of Iraq and the legalization of marijuana, Kucinich and I are polar opposites on the ideological spectrum.

So, here's a confession that might come as a surprise. It certainly took me by surprise when I first realized it Tuesday night as I watched Kerry bloodlessly wrap up the Democratic nomination and started to deal with the prospect of an equally bloodless Presidential contest. But, with each passing day, the truth of this revelation becomes more and more obvious to me.

Anyway, my confession is this. As of this moment, the odds are roughly even than next Tuesday, for the first time since I've been old enough to cast a ballot, I will not only cast my vote in the Democratic primary but I will proudly cast that vote for U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio.

No, this is not a joke. For the past couple of months, I've gotten into the habit of dropping by Kucinich's campaign web site. At first, it was sort of a private joke (i.e., "Let's see what those whacked-out leftists are doing today!") but as Kerry continued to run his campaign based on the principle of "Screw-the-issues-I-can-win!" and the Republicans seemed to forget that the concept of small government doesn't carry an exclusion for regulating practices that you might find to be personally offensive, I stopped laughing at Kucinich. It's intresting -- everyday, I find something else about which to disagree with Dennis Kucinich. And everyday, I find myself admiring his campaign more and more.

The fact of the matter is, of all the serious major party candidates, Kucinich is the only won whose running his campaign based on a concept other than simply beating the other guy. Dennis Kucinich is the only candidate campaigning for America, as opposed to campaigning for the chance to win. In short, the Kucinich campaign is the only campaign that, right now, seems to understand what's so great about democracy in the first place.

Now, I wouldn't quite call this an endorsement of Dennis Kucinich. The fact of the matter is that even if I did somehow end up voting for him in November, I doubt I'd vote to reelected him in 2008. We simply disagree on too many issues. However, it's also true that Dennis Kucinich is the only candidate that I trust will actually make the effort and take the political risks to get us out of Iraq. Strangely enough, as much as I disagree with a good deal of his stands, Kucinich is the only candidate I trust period.

Am I voting Kucinich? That's the question and no one's less sure of the answer than I am. But right now, as long as the other campaigns seem fueled by little more than cynical partisan posturing and grudges, there's a good chance that this National Review-reading, Libertarian-leaning, lifelong Republican will be proudly casting his ballot for a left-wing, vegan, peacenik come Tuesday. 
  Finally got to sleep today around 12 noon and I got a full 3 and a half hours -- which, for me, is amazing. When I woke up, it appeared that Texas had somehow found itself in the middle of a monsoon and I spent (or wasted, depending on how you look at it) an hour or so just laying in bed and listening to the storm pounding my house. On the whole, it only rains three or four months out of the year down here and for the rest of the time, the state is so dry that every piece of unpaved land looks like a cemetery without headstones. As a result, for those three stormy months, you learn to savor every single aspect of the rain -- from the smell of storm brewing to the feeling of haphazardly aimed drops of water sharply pricking your skin when you step outside.

The rain has subsided for now but, looking out into my backyard as I type this, everything is a truly beautiful shade of gray, a promise of more chaos to come.

Speaking of chaos to come, I've suddenly become very aware that including today, I've only got two more days of vacation left. Luckily, after I work on Saturday, I'll be off for three more days but still, I have so much left to get accomplished in so little time. I am proud to say that I finally started writing on at least one of my four current literary endeavors. Before I went to bed, I revised two "poems" for Oswald Acted Alone. The proper term for them would probably be "prose poems" but that label has always smacked of a certain self-indulgence to me. When I hear a writer say that he's written a prose poem, that usually means that this writer lacked either the patience of the talent to 1) develop an idea to the point where it could sustain a short story, 2) give enough thought to style and language to actually express an idea through poetry (because if poetry was simply prose with random line breaks, than it wouldn't have ever been necessary to distinguish between poetry and prose in the first place), or 3) both. That sad truth of the matter is that far too much undeveloped prose has been labeled poetry (or "prose poetry") over the past couple of years and far too many readers are willing to indulge this artistic laziness because they've bought into the assumption that poetry isn't supposed to make sense or be all that engaging in the first place.

Speaking from my own personal experience, I can say that -- at least when you're dealing with the small presses and the zines and the whole self-styled underground lit. mag scene -- it's a helluva lot easier to get a bad poem published than it is to get a good short story. Sad to say but, from 1994 to 1997, I got a good deal of bad poetry published under my name and I still cringe whenever I occasionally come across some of it and realize that there's a small handful of people who -- if they do remember my name -- will remember it solely on the basis of a so-called "poem" that, deep down, I knew wasn't worth the paper it was scrawled out on even as I was sending it out to editors I knew would publish it.

Out of two hundred poems that I wrote over that three year period, there are probably twelve that I think actually work as poetry. Quite a few of the rest I ended up rewriting as short stories and I'm proud to say that once translated to their proper form, those mediocre poems produced some of my strongest prose. (A few of these appear in my first book, It's Impossible To Start A Fire If You Have No Desire To Burn with Looking for Armenia being my personal favorite.)

Anyway, I believe I had a point at one time and it basically boiled down to the fact that I am reluctant to refer to the two pieces I revised yesterday as poetry because to me, poetry is what was produced by Yeats, Ginsberg, Byron, and a select pantheon of others. To me, a good poem is the ultimate communion of language and imagination and those who have mastered this form are the ones who have truly earned the right to immortality. It's not easy for me to believe in God but I know I'll always believe in Yeats. Viewing poetry as I do, I am not comfortable with the whole idea of just casually throwing the label out there and I'm not going to do it with the two pieces I revised earlier today. Instead, I'll use a phrase that one of former creative writing professors, the Dallas poet Joe Stanco, used to describe the literary process -- "language playing with itself." This morning, I sat down at my computer and created two works of language playing with itself for Oswald Acted Alone.

The first was a revision of a piece called Say Goodnight, Icarus that I wrote back in 1995 and which originally appeared in the Spring '96 edition of Parallax, a literary magazine put out by Richland Community College down here in Texas. It's a rather abstract and, to be honest, somewhat cruel take on one of my favorite themes -- the struggle of each generation to convince itself that their are still original ideas to be discovered, to find a piece of existence that isn't covered with the footprints and the graffiti of the previous. The image of Icarus flying too close to the sun is one of those that has been kept alive since the men and women started to make the trouble to tell stories in the first place and it is, indeed, the best allegory for the artistic experience that one could hope for. For me, the point of the story isn't that Icarus got cocky and flew too close to the sun. For me, the point is that once that wax starts to melt even just a little, you're screwed. That's the risk of creation -- your mistakes, once made, will trigger consequences that can never be reversed or even stopped. Putting out your own individual vision for the rest of the world to see -- it's the closest you can get to self-destruction without having to deal with the complications of purgatory.

The other was a much shorter, humorous (in a cynical sort of way) piece called A Relationship, which is an homage of sorts to a few short pieces Irvine Welsh included in his collection The Acid House but, hopefully, enlivened by my own view point. This was something that I originally wrote for It's Impossible To Start A Fire... and it survived every draft until the final when I realized that, regardless of how much I personally liked it, it didn't fit in with the rest of the book. So, I'm glad that I've found a home for it in Oswald Acted Alone.
 
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Blogs

Reva Renee Renz -- Renz would have won my vote in 2003's California recall election, if not for the fact that I'm not a resident of California. Anyway, Renz was one of the more likeable candidates in that free-for-all, one of the few who took it seriously without giving into meglomania. Her blog gives the details of her run and her life after. Renz is the owner of Deva's Bar in Tustin, California and I have to admit that the only reason I currently desire to visit California is to have a beer at that bar. Renz stands as proof that Republicans are a lot more fun than most people care to admit.

Yankee From Mississippi -- Shannon Black's blog, featuring writing that often puts me to shame. Plus, isn't that just an amazingly cool title for a blog or anything else for that matter?

Crime

The Charley Project -- A huge site, detailings hundreds of cold cases dealing with missing persons. This site is actually far superior and better written than the similar and better known Doe Network.

Crime News 2000 -- Despite the 2000, this is a daily updated listing of all the latest developments in all the morbid and disturbing stories that tend to capture the national psyche nowadays.

Doe Network -- One of those web sites that justifies the existence of the internet in the first place, the Doe Network is a huge database of missing persons and unifidentified remains from around the world.

Is this girl Tara Leigh Calico? -- This web site details the disappearance of a 19 year-old girl in New Mexico back in the late '80s. The details of Tara Calico's disappearance have haunted me for years now and served as the genesis for my current interest about missing person cases in general.

Politics

Charles Jay -- Personal Choice Party Candidate For President In 2004 -- I wrote in Jay's name for President in 2004. I think about 228 other people -- mostly in Utah -- agreed with me.

D.C.'s Political Report -- With Politics1 on indefinite hiatus, this is now the best place on the web to find continually updated listings of who is running for what and where.

Homepage of the Libertarian Party -- I am a member of the Libertarian Party, even if the party itself can't ever quite seem to get it's act together.

National Review -- The magazine for both true conservatives and Libertarians who think Ayn Rand was a hack

Politics 1 -- The site is officially on hiatus but there's still the occasional update. The archival information on the various candidates in the 2000 and 2004 Presidential races always makes for interesting reading.

Pop Culture

Fametracker

Teevee

Writing

Amazon.com -- I've posted quite a few reviews of books, film, and music on this site and I've gotten a good deal of very gratifying and very positive feedback from them. (I've also managed to piss off just about everyone who cried when they saw Titanic for the 10th times but that's another story...) Those reviews can be found by searching the site for Jeffrey Ellis from Richardson, Texas.

The Homepage of Gregory Alan Norton -- Homepage of one of my favorite liberals, fellow writer Greg Norton who I published in the premier issue of Jack the Daw way back in 1995. His site quotes my review of his excellent first novel, There Ain't No Justice, Just Us and includes information on how to order the book.

Xlibris -- Homepage for Xlibris, the publishers of It's Impossible To Start A Fire If You Have No Desire To Burn

Blogarama - The Blog Directory