Wednesday, July 27, 2005

one more sojuorn

I'm rounding into the final stretch of my rewrite. Surprisingly, the editor didn't have a whole lot of changes he wanted me to make. But there were a couple of major turning points in the narrative that he wanted me to bear down and nail. For the past few weeks, I've been putting off this challenge. I just couldn't seem to get my brain going, and I stuck to more nechanical line editing. So to trick myself into productivity, I took yet another sojourn, this time to the Motel 6 pictured above.

This place is on 87th just off I-435, not ten minutes from my house. But it was far enough away, and austere enough to do the trick. All I needed was one day, a night, and the better part of a morning. The rain was especially helpful, coming right when I was writing the thematic climax of the book, easily the most difficult-to-write four paragraphs in the whole thing -- it poured so hard, I couldn't even go for a walk; I had to just sit there with my thoughts until I figured it all out.

My cubicle.

My work station.

The view from the break room.

Writing is a strange occupation. A lot of times it feels like not working. That's because a lot of times -- hell, most of the time -- it is not working.

And part of me is ashamed of this. I'm not a gold brick, I've put in a few days of hard, physical labor. And I've been hustling to advance my career ever since I got out of college. But now I'm living this two-to-four-hour-work-day writer's life, and I feel torn, like I'm a lucky bastard and a total cheater all rolled into one.

But then, the time not working really is a lot of work. I saw Joyce Carol Oates speak once, and she explained the feeling of being a writer as like having a vice clamped on you head every waking moment. You never really stop thinking about your project until it's done and the editor deems it good.

And it's simply impossible to write eight hours a day. At least it is for me, and just about every writer I've heard talk about writing. If I were to compare it to some of the jobs I've had, like, say, carpet laying, it would be like having all your muscles just suddenly shut down after several hours of exertion. Or if you were dishwasher, and, midway through the shift, every effort you made actually got the dishes dirtier.

So I garden, and help coach debate. Just so's I'm not a totally lazy fool.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

early this morning

I wish I had looked at the clock, because I can't recall the exact time. I'm guessing it was about 3 in the morning. I was having a nightmare of sorts. All I remember was the image of my neighbor (a dream neighbor, who bore no resemblence to my real neighbors) about to bludgen me to death with a two-by-four.

I jolted awake to escape this fate and, in less than a second, I heard six gun shots in the not-so-distant distance -- I'd say half a block south.

I got up and called 911 and got a machine: Do not hang up! Please hold...

While on hold, I heard tires screach from generally the same direction and distance as the shots.

Twenty, maybe thrity seconds later the operator came on and I told her about the shots. She said she'd gotten other calls from the vacinity.

I peaked out the windows a few times, trying to get a glimpse of some excitement, but I saw none, so I went to bed.

This is the second time I've heard shots in the middle of the night in my neighborhood. The first was a week after we moved in.

In neither instance did I feel scared.

Now I'm sitting out on my front porch and the birds are singing and it's the same safe, quiet neighborhood it's always been.

It all makes me think about my profession. How many times have we read an article about the inner-city where they used the phrase "shots rang out in the night," or some variation thereof? I know for a fact that I have in at least one article. I've definitely lingered for a while on details of shootings to set the scene for whatever urban tale I'm telling.

And there's nothing wrong with that. Periodic shootings are somewhat peculiar to poorer, urban neighborhoods, and reporters, who hail primarily from neighborhoods where shootings are very, very rare, tend to zero in on them.

The problem (or should I say "challenge?") is how do you point out this peculiar aspect without making the shootings out to be more than they are: noisy flair-ups from folks living dangerous lives, incidents that tend to hurt the risk-takers, not the majority of the folks in the neighborhood, for whom it's basically a safe place most of the time? Too often, the details aboout the shootings make it seem like neighborhoods like mine are all about shooting. Like we're just ducking bullets left and right.

I wish there were an easy way to put things into perspective. So-called 'hoods are safe places. It's the city, so you shouldn't just go walking around after dark. But the real dangers aren't the guys with the guns, not for honest, clean-living folks anyway. Like, I have less of a chance of getting hit by an errant bullet near my home than I do getting hit by a drunk driver on I-35 in JoCo.

Saturday, July 23, 2005


Creativity is more than just being different. Anybody can play weird--that's easy. What's hard is to be as simple as Bach. Making the simple complicated is commonplace--making the complicated simple, awesomely simple--that's creativity. -- Charles Mingus

Thursday, July 21, 2005

christmas in july

Forget about carbon. The most essential element of life is the paradox. That's true for everything, including gardening.

July is the time to prepare the winter garden. Which means hard, physical labor -- shoveling, hauling, garden weeseling.

Problem is, it's July.

All the radio stations say it was 94 today, with a heat index of 102. But my car thermostat sez it was 100, with a heat index of God knows what. I'm going with the latter, because it's freaking hot.

So garden prep must take place in the wee morning hours. I got to it at 6 this morning, and by 8:30 I was sweating so hard my feet were slipping around in my Crocs.

All this for a December harvest of spinach.

Oh, the irony.

Sunday, July 17, 2005


I'm not sure if can call this an official end to my fast, or just a midnight snack, but I've decided to add a couple of news sources to my meager media survival gruel.

First, there's a couple of new blogs in my regular rotation:

relentlessly optimistic (nice title, isn't it?)

But those don't really count, because what I'm really trying to get away from is the onslaught of info that comes from folks who make money onslaughting us with it.

So it's with some embarrassment and regret that I must admit here that I've been lured into relapse by the good folks at NPR and PRI and KCUR. And the simple reason is this: It's good stuff to listen to when I'm chopping vegetables.

Moreover, I'm beginning to develop a bit of a routine on Sunday nights, listening to KC Currents and then the documentary that follows as I prepare salads and such for the coming week.

So I'm not even sure it's still accurate to say I'm on a news fast anymore. Moreover, I'm not sure this is going to end at Labor Day weekend. What I think is happening is I'm becoming more choosy about what I let into my brain. There's so damn much media out there, so much info, so much noise, that I think it might well be a matter of survival to severely limit its flow.

When I was following a bunch of news sites and blogs everyday, two things happened. At best, all the info started to sound the same and it lacked meaning. At worst, it depressed the hell out of me, or made me angry.

It's interesting now to look at my list of media sources, how the overwhelming majority are blogs by neighborly folks. This is a good thing, I think. It's sort of like going back in time, when news-sharing was more of a community event. I think of the folks who write the blogs I read as friends, even those I've never met, so I trust them, and I appreciate the way they spin the news for me. I know it's not spin for the sake of some other motive, such as profit, or -- as is often the case at news organizations -- for the sake of better access down the road.

But even more than that, I like the way blogs mix the personal with the political. In blogs, so-called mundane human events get just as much if not more ink than so-called newsmaking events. I find comfort in this.

And then there's radio, which has made its way back into the mix.

For one, I have to be honest, I've recently made friends with some of the folks at KCUR, so there's a bloggy quality to my following their work. But there's also the convenience of it. I can do other stuff while I get informed.

And that, my dear friends, is why I think Bush's cronies are going after NPR. It's got real mass appeal, but it's not as easily spun as the Today Show -- lies don't resonate for as long on Morning Edition as they do on Good Morning America. So, naturally, they want to shut it down.

How's that for a rambling post? Kind of reminds me of a scene from an old W.C. Fields movie:
Reporter: Professor, what's your opinion of Dr. Chang's invention?

Professor: Worthless!

Reporter: The invention?!

Professor: My opinion.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


The tomatoes are starting to rock out.

(And for those of you in the know: Things are going well with Bob. Got a good report today.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

subversive tv

I've been hanging out on memory lane. My babysitters growing up were syndicated TV sitcoms, and lately I've been watching them again.

I've often thought that Norman Lear had a lot to do with racism going into hiding. Specifically, Archie Bunker made being an outspoken bigot undesirable. Like, he was a fat, ugly idiot. You might love him, in a comedy sort of way, but you sure don't want to be him.

From the Museum of Broadcast Communications:
All In The Family first aired on 12 January 1971. Wood commented in a 1979 interview that CBS had added several extra phone operators to handle an expected flood of reactions. They never came.

All in the Family's impact went beyond the world of television. The show became the focus of a heated national debate on whether the use of comedy was an appropriate means by which to combat prejudice and social inequality.

Over its early life there were a continuous flow of letters objected to language and themes and challenging Lear for his "liberal" views. Looking back in 1979 Lear remarked that he responded to such criticism by stating, "I'm not trying to say anything. I am entertaining the viewers. Is it funny? That was the question." Later, when attacks on the show asked how he dared to express his views he altered his response. "Why wouldn't I have ideas and thoughts and why wouldn't my work reflect those ideas?" And of course they did.

I can't find All in the Family on Netflix (though the library has it). So I've been watching a spin-off of a spin-off of the show: Good Times. I became interested in the show again when Janet Jackson hosted Saturday Night Live a few months back. They did a hilarious Good Times spoof, where one wretched thing after another happens to the family, to the howls of the studio audience.

So far I've gotten through the first disk of the first season, and I find it to be quite touching and profound. My favorite episode is "Black Jesus," in which Michael, the young radical in the family, hangs a painting JJ did of a neighborhood wino posing as the Savior. As soon as the picture goes up, the family starts getting lucky with "the long green" coming in left and right, much to mama Flo's chagrine. And the episode where Michael gets suspended for calling George Washington a racist. There are great subversive moments, like when Flo gets turned down for welfare and jokes that the rich look down on welfare but welcome "subsidies," and when dad James loses a job opportunity because "government rules can't be broken -- unless your the government." Everyone talks so openly and naturally about race.

I guess it didn't last, though. According to the broadcast museum's site:
Good Times is also significant for many layers of controversy and criticism that haunted its production. Both stars, Rolle and Amos, walked away and returned as they became embroiled in various disputes surrounding the program's direction. A major point of disagreement was the J.J. character, who metamorphosed into a coon-stereotype reminiscent of early American film. His undignified antics raised the ire of the Black community. With his toothy grin, ridiculous strut and bug-eyed buffoonery, J.J. became a featured character with his trademark exclamation, "DY-NO-MITE!" J.J. lied, stole, and was barely literate. More and more episodes were centered around his exploits. Forgotten were Michael's scholastic success, James' search for a job and anything resembling family values.

No doubt JJ was big when I was a kid. I think I even had a DY-NO-MITE T-shirt.

Still, I can't deny that these early shows had a positive impact on me. I don't know if Good Times broke down stereotypes, but it did humanize -- and not in a pitying way. And it had a strong moral core, certainly stronger than Gilligan's Island or Seinfeld.

But what really gets me wistful is the theme song, really any theme song from the great Norman-Lear era of TV. I still find comfort in them, their familiarity, their assurance that for the next 30 minutes I'll be safely transfixed by a good story.

cut 3

Marcus dragged his feet down the halls of Shawnee Mission South. The corridors went on and on, turning abruptly every fifty yards or so to pass through handsome add-ons built over the years to accommodate the growing population. The school opened in 1969, amid new subdivisions twelve miles southwest of downtown Kansas City, near where construction crews were then laying out the first stretch of the metro area's outer beltway, I-435. That was the first year the Kansas City school district became majority black, and from day one Shawnee Mission South was an anti-Central, a white yang to the black school’s yin, as it had remained through fall 2002, when Marcus roamed its halls like a sleep-deprived zombie. Actually, Central didn't get good enough grades to be the polar opposite of Shawnee Mission South, where the drop out rate was a mere two percent and more than half the students tested at "advanced" or "exemplary" levels in reading, math, science and social studies. Still, the contrasting schools were a perfect symbol of Kansas City’s fractured community.

Whenever folks from Kansas City call national radio talk shows, the hosts almost always refer to them as being from Kansas, which annoys Missouri-side Kansas Citians to no end. Everything that makes Kansas City Kansas City, they believe, is in the Show-Me State. The Kauffman and Arrowhead stadiums, where the Royals and Chiefs play, are on the city’s far east side, where the countryside begins rippling southeastward toward the Ozarks. The towers of Kansas City's skyline house Missouri-based corporations. Gates Barbecue and Arthur Bryant’s, which Calvin Trillin once declared 'the single best restaurant in the world,' both serve the city’s trademark beef sandwiches in knolls south of the Missouri River, not on the prairie west of where the river turns north. When Jimmy Witherspoon sang "Goin' to Kansas City," he was headed for a row of night clubs a couple miles east of the state line. But if the radio hosts are thinking in terms of demographics, they’re right: Kansas City is in Kansas. The bulk of the metro area's wealth and power is concentrated around Shawnee Mission South and the other turbo-charged high schools in Johnson County.

A few miles to the west of Shawnee Mission South, the Johnson County Museum History tells the story of how this came to be in a permanent exhibit called 'Seeking the Good Life.' There, a short video greets visitors, which begins with a quick nod to some early settlers, the Shawnee Indians, who were banished from Ohio and made to live in the area’s dry prairie. Then the missionaries come in the 1820s to tame the savages who, by the Turn-of-the-Century, would be pushed away again to Oklahoma. The county was a farm community until the Roaring Twenties, when wealthy Kansas Citians moved southwestward to, as the video says, "escape the filth of the city." The earliest of these escapees moved into homes built by J. C. Nichols, the nation’s pioneer of suburban, self-contained community development. In 1905 he began work on the Country Club Plaza, the United States' first shopping mall, and its surrounding neighborhoods of homes fashioned in the classic hard-wood-and-stucco style of old Europe. The district, located on the Missouri side, remains Kansas City's top tourist attraction, with its stately storefronts adorned with hand-made tiles imported from Spain. Dozens of statues and fountains line the sidewalks that lead shoppers to Saks Fifth Avenue, Armani Exchange and the Plaza III Steakhouse. For the shaded residential blocks around the Plaza, Nichols sought "an element of people who desired a better way of life, a nicer place to live and would be willing to work in order to keep it better." To realize this vision, Nichols mastered the art of the "restrictive deed," which was created in Boston in the 1840s to keep blacks and immigrants out of the Louisburg Square neighborhood on the city’s elite Beacon Hill. When he sold his new homes, Nichols made buyers sign a contract promising to not sell to blacks or Jews. His mastery of this practice came in the clauses he added to the contracts, which perpetually renewed the restrictions every ten or fifteen years unless a majority of the community's home owners voted to let them expire, which, of course, never happened.

By the 1920s, his empire was beginning to spread across Stateline Road, into a wooded area he called Mission Hills, which he set out to shape into "the most distinguished of American garden suburbs." The Country Club District, which is still revered as one of the greatest developments in American history and today serves as a model for "new urbanism," was a mere appetizer for Nichols’s ostentatious feast just west of the border. Among shaded knolls and streams, Nichols built scores of mansions and an exclusive golf and tennis club. The area is remains home for Kansas City’s high society, people like Royals legend George Brett, diamond tycoons Barnett and Shirley Helzberg (who moved in a while after the Supreme Court shot down restrictive deeds in 1948), the Halls and Hockadays of Hallmark Cards and Julia Irene Kauffman, daughter of Ewing Marion Kauffman, namesake for the place where the Royals play and for one of wealthiest charitable foundations in America (no philanthropic slouch herself, Julia put up tens of millions for a new performing arts center in downtown Kansas City). The median income there is just shy of $200,000. The median cost of a house is over half a million. In 2000 Census officials counted just three blacks among its 3,600 residents.

Johnson County really began taking shape, though, after World War II, when middle class families took advantage of long-term, low-interest FHA loans to claim their piece of "the good life." During 1950s, the county’s population doubled to 60,000. And by the end of the 1960s, when Shawnee Mission South opened its doors, it had doubled again. With new skyscrapers just south of I-435 from Shawnee Mission West, the area had become an "edge city," having lured some of the metro area’s corporate giants, such as Black and Veatch and Sprint Telecommunications, to set up shop in the Sunflower State.

Meantime, the Kansas City School District withered. In 1969, when Shawnee Mission South opened, the urban district boasted 75,000 students. By the time Marcus reached his senior year, his district had dwindled to 27,500 and was still shrinking. With close to 30,000 students, Shawnee Mission had taken its place as the largest district in the metro area. It also ranked among the best, with test scores at its five high schools well above the state average and loads of AP classes to choose from. Unlike Kansas City, where voters hadn’t approved a school bond since 1969, residents in the Shawnee Mission School District were so eager to fund their schools they frequently persuaded their mostly Republican state representatives to draft laws that would allow them to raise their own taxes beyond state limits. And Marcus could see the results of these political actions as he aimlessly navigated the sprawling school, past the pastel-colored tiles of the late 1960s that gave way to the glass, cinder block and steel of the 1980s and, finally, to the brick and blonde-wood trim of the 1990s. Not that he noticed. To him it was just another clean, colorful school for white kids. A place where segregation had shifted from overt evil to the simple nature of things. Marcus looked around and saw a place frozen in time, not so much because of its obvious counterpoint to integration, but because of the kind of debate they did here. Here, debaters argued the way their grandparents would have in the years before Brown vs. the Board of Education, a time when, if Marcus had been a teenager then, he sure as well wouldn’t be debating. Not because he because Jim Crow wouldn’t have let him, but because he wouldn’t have wanted to. He’d just as soon watch asphalt decay as debate the way these suburban kiss-asses did.

Sunday, July 10, 2005


Now I can buy that loaf of bread I've had my eye on.

Based on my calculations, I ran out of money on May 1. And my payment finally arrived on Friday, July 8. In that 10-week period, my income was, to the best of my recollection:

Hedge clipping Job: $150
Garage Sale $50
Birthday Money: $75
Old Records Sold: $6
Old Books Sold: $42
Schwinn Cruiser 6-Speed Sold: $75
Johnny Horton Boxed Set Sold: $54.95

Total: $452.95

No. That's not all I lived on. I leaned pretty heavily on my Sugar Mama. But still. I was broke-ass broke. On the afternoon when the money finally showed up in my account, I was looking under couch cushions for spare change to buy pasta. Seriously. I was.

Now here's the weird part. I had everything I needed. I didn't really even need to scrounge for pasta money -- there was plenty of food around, I just wanted pasta. In truth, I probably would have gotten along just fine with a third of that figure listed above. Indeed, every time one of those piddly amounts came in, I raced out to spend it. And that's what's weird. I felt like an addict. Like I just had to spend.

Like when that birthday money came in, I headed over to Habitat Restore and bought a bunch of wood I still haven't used (plan to, though). And when I sold the books, I wasted about an eighth of it on Arby's, when I had plenty to eat at home. I bought something dumb at a thrift store too, I can't remember what. (To be fair, a lot of that $452.95 went into the garden which isn't a total waste.)

So then the big eagle finally lands and Good Lord! I wanna go on a shopping spree. And I have, sort of, though I'm being really careful. Allie and I are having regular financial planning meetings to keep on our frugal course while we transition into the next career phase.

Just makes you think about capitalism, I guess. I told Ebony all this and he nodded knowingly. He told me that Ivan Illich says I was programmed to be a spending addict in grade school.

"That's why we need to de-school society," Ebony said.

Sounds good to me.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

cut 2

Lisa was classified by school administrators as a “gifted” and “at risk” kid. At their urging, she joined Upward Bound, a program aimed at preparing low-income, inner-city kids for college. Like Lisa, the other kids in the program had gotten high test scores, but were earning poor grades in school. They met once a week, and every summer they went to the University of Kansas for six weeks, staying at dorms and taking small-college-style classes, which would be counted for credit at college, to which admission was guaranteed upon completion of the program. They took field trips and watched movies. The program’s director was from Venezuela. “She would tell us about black people being everywhere in the world,” Lisa recalled. “She said, ‘Stop thinking of yourself as the only black people in the world. As minorities. You might be minorities in this country, but most of the world is brown.’”

Lisa finished the program successfully, but she never made it to the university. “The program reached me, and it was great at that time,” Lisa told me. “But when I got home that lackadaisical attitude kinda stuck with me.” When it came time to enroll at KU, she took the paperwork for financial aid to her father, but he didn’t want his business exposed to some new bureaucracy, so she decided to try to go through the process of establishing her independence and try again in a year. Then she got pregnant with Antoine, and that was the end of that.

cut 1

He longed to travel, like his mother did when she was young. When Lisa was ten years old, she traveled with grandmother and her aunt on a summer-long train trip, from Kansas City to Detroit and Canada to San Diego and Mexico, then back home. They rode first class, because her aunt “wasn’t gonna ride no coach,” sleeping in bunk beds and eating breakfast every morning in the restaurant car. Lisa would spend hours just staring out the window, watching the world gradually change as they moved along, from farmland to prairie to mountains to desert, marveling at how the sunset looked different in each new place. She saw, for the first and only time in her life, a hang glider, gently floating across a valley they were passing through. In California, she went to Disneyland, and crossed over into Tijuana, where she bought earrings and a set of maracas. For a week she called herself Rosa, and danced around the house shaking the things incessantly, driving the grown-ups nuts. Her uncle took her fishing in the ocean. He was light skinned, a bit snooty. He liked to say, a bit too often for Lisa’s taste, “We are the particular negroes.” His family had peach and lemon trees growing in their backyard. She ate bananas every day. Now whenever she peels one, she thinks of California. For a long time one of her prized possessions was a picture of her grandmother from that trip. In it, she wore a pink sleeveless blouse, loud 1970s polyester pants and a great big straw hat, standing in front of a pier that stretched out into a perfectly small cove.

She misplaced the photo when she and Jay and the kids moved to their current house, and she still ached at the loss. All through her adolescent the picture had hinted at a life she hoped to one day lead, free, worldly, and, at very least, far from the doldrums of a Midwestern ‘hood. “I knew there was something better out there,” she told me. “I was young, but I knew all this around here is the same, even though I hadn’t experienced it yet. Shit, I know the hell out of it now. And I don’t care about what I don’t know.”

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


On Sunday, I was confined to my bed with the pain of a bruised rib. Allie came up and dropped a copy of the Star on the bed beside me, thus breaking, for a moment, my news fast. Top story: Waris pleads guilty to lying to FBI.

I skimmed the piece, and the sidebar, after which I was quite pleased, not so much because Jackson County appears to be headed for a much needed house cleaning, but because the Star finally used the word "patronage" in an article about a white guy. (For now I'll ignore the fact that this comes only after an indictment and admitted guilt of a felony.)

A few tidbits about Waris that have been missing from the coverage:

When he was Jackson County Executive in the early 1990s, he made a big show of not collecting the tax increase Federal Judge Clark ordered as part of the Kansas City desegregation case.

In case you don't remember, the school district had been unable to pass a bond levy since 1969, the last year the school district's student population was majority white. To end segregation, Clark ordered a costly magnet-school plan, which the district couldn't afford. After a bond initiative failed yet another time, Clark ordered a tax increase himself. The matter made it all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled that Clark had no Constitutional right to raise taxes. But he could order the school district to do so, they decided.

Of course the whole ordeal raised quite a ruckus. Folks got all pissy, and the national press decended, and Waris saw his moment to step into the spotlight and play the spoiler. Which, obviously, he couldn't really do. The Supreme Court had made its decision; the tax had to be collected.

But here's the punchline: A little over ten years later, Waris winds up with a fat lobbying contract with the district.

He's one of several folks who've been publically critical of the district's financial business who also wound up sucking a few checks out of the public-school tit.

Worse, I don't have a sense Waris did much of a good job as a lobbyist for the district. This is based on a pretty narrow focus, admittedly.

In spring 2001, I wrote an article for the Pitch about how the state high school activities association wouldn't allow the Central High debate squad compete at a very prestigious tournament. The story generated a bit of buzz. KC school board members met to discuss ways to fight the decision, and several state legislators wrote a letter to the association's executive director.

Well, while Waris was supposedly looking out for the district's best interest in Jefferson City, a bill came up which would have dealt directly with the problem. It came from a representative from the St. Louis area. But apparently Waris had no clue of the board members' and the legislators' desires, because the bill came up and tanked in committee before any of Waris's clients knew anything about it. (I was the one who wound up telling them about it, after the fact.)

Our tax dollars at work, I suppose. Certainly another example of why Democrats aren't necessarily the saviors.

Sunday, July 03, 2005


I'm a hurtin' unit. The doctor -- and everything I've read -- tells me this'll take 4 to 6 weeks to heal. It's just a bruise, but it's the worst pain I've felt in years.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

exxxtreme gardening

Two years of serious gardening, two trips to the emergency room.

Last year it was me muscling a massive hunk of concrete out of the ground and somehow slipping and puncturing my ankle with a rusty wire.

This year:
Emergency Room Nurse: So what happened?

eXXXtreme Gardener: I tripped over a hammock.

ERN: Ah. Those hard summer days.

EG (thinking): Damn right, be-yotch!

Actually, I was carrying fertilizer. No. Not one of those 40-pound bags. Two quart-sized bottles. But still. My hands were full and I didn't quite lift my leg high enough to clear the hammock. Thought maybe I broke my ribs. (Just bruised.)

No, I didn't even think of going around it. Sheesh! What kind of pussy do you think I am?

But seriously. Has anyone ever died from gardening?

Friday, July 01, 2005

why i lean lean left

It's odd, but I actually feel a bit of grief over the death of the Nate character on Six Feet Under, which really means I'm grieving over the end of the show, which was very, very good. I'm not ashamed to say that I think the show was a work of art, certainly a defining portrait of our time, and I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to watch it.

For one, it just might be the definitive movie/TV show about life in Los Angeles, at least middle-class life, and for that reason alone it's a significant work. Though LA plays a huge role in the defining of America, both as a producer of so much media and as a massive consumer market, New York tends to be America's fantasy city of choice, a character in its own right. Too often, LA is just a set. But if you've ever visited the place, and I've really only been there once, you get a sense of not only how important it is, but also how unique, indeed, downright strange -- as if its story conveys a theme no other story can, at least not as poignantly. LA is like something out of Sci Fi, or the book of Revelations, which has been edited down to near normalcy. New York might be the tip of the American knife, but LA is its long, decorative, razor-sharp blade.

The ocean played a huge, if sporadic role in the series, and that's partly why the LA setting was key. We were led to believe in an earlier episode, for instance, that the ocean had swallowed up Nate's first wife, Lisa, at a moment when she'd finally found some peace. Later Nate and Brenda were married on the shore, while she carried a dead fetus in her womb. And in Nate's death sequence was where he wound up, running into the waves, yelling over his shoulder, "Come on! This is what we came for!!"

As a fledgling story teller myself, I can't help but think, How perfect! The closeness between life (and by life I mean life at its most alive: elation, ecstasy) and death is a time-honored device of art, one that'll never be worn out because it's so true. And to me that's what LA is: this place on the edge where the fire burns a bit brighter and hotter than anywhere else. It's the spot where those with the most acute cases of wanderlust stopped, because they had to stop, and infected the gene pool with their dangerously curious spirits. The ocean. Life and death rolling, one over the other, again and again, endlessly.

Of course, the Fisher's funeral home, which Nate couldn't succeed in escaping, was a bigger, more obvious thematic backdrop -- and recurring character, what with each episode beginning with a different, unexpected death. These little stories, and the morbid setting, tempered the intensity of life in all the main characters' storylines, grounded them in reality. And isn't this what America is: plain, old mortality wrapped in an illusion of self importance and invincibility?

In this setting, with such real characters, and in the hands of sophisticated writers, actors and directors, Six Feet Under became, in my mind, a true American masterpiece, and I'm really going to miss it.