October 30, 2005

Should Have Been Alone (A Short Story In 70 Lines)

680 South Before Koopman Road Possible Fatality 5:04 PM

Thomas Guide Map Coordinates: Page 734, Grid 5E
Flames Coming from Hood 5:04 PM
Big Rig off Roadway in Ditch 5:04 PM
L1575 South Just North of Scales 5:06 PM
Rig Possible Sideways on Right Shoulder 5:06 PM
Per Another Pb is Swift Truck Big Rig 5:07 PM
Per Connections-South 680 at Sunol 5:10 PM
Visual North Side / Smoke Across South Lanes Affecting Traffic 5:10 PM
South Just North of Kooopman Per Ch2 5:11 PM
Transportation Management Center CHP Cpz Line 10 5:12 PM
Request Sig Alert 5:13 PM
Shoulder Fully Engulfed 5:13 PM
CHP Unit on Scene 5:13 PM
Sig Alert Issued at 1713 Hrs 5:14 PM
Fire Going On Scene now 5:14 PM
Request Helicopter 5:14 PM
Reports Ptys Trapped Inside Vehicles 5:14 PM
CHP Unit on Scene 5:14 PM
Fire in Center Divider now Per Citz Rpt 5:15 PM
Cab Fully Engulfed 5:16 PM
Another Fire in Center Divider 5:17 PM
Please Contact Swift Transportation 5:19 PM
Contact Union Pacific Railroad-Have Them Check the Rr for Any Dmg 5:20 PM
Shutting Down All Lanes for Approx 5 Min 5:22 PM
Message/Item Delivered Union Pacific Rr 5:25 PM
Union Pacific with Send Crew Out to Check Tracks 5:27 PM
Can U Check with Air for Photos Please 5:28 PM
Ll with Moffett for H32 5:29 PM
CHP Unit on Scene 5:30 PM
Copy Line 32 for State Notifications 5:31 PM
No Response for H32 on Blue X2 5:31 PM
Ans Machine Only at Moffett/paged H32 5:31 PM
H32 En Route from Moffett 5:38 PM
#1 Lane Open 5:38 PM
Appears North Traffic Unaffected 5:38 PM
Disregard Line 53 Wrong Numb 6:17 PM
Piece of Debris Flew Onto Right Shoulder of North Lanes-on Fire 6:21 PM
Coroner On Scene 6:28 PM
Per Swift Non-Haz Mat// Paper to Be Recycled on Board 6:38 PM
Please Callbox Swift Inquire How Many People Were Supposed to Be in the Rig 6:45 PM
Dmg to Tractor 6:45 PM
Over Side Approx 50 Ft 6:45 PM
Major Dmg to Trailer / Mostly Empty now 6:45 PM
Request Tow Truck Required Big Rig Evidence Tow 6:45 PM
Message/Item Delivered Residence Lance With Tow Truck Required H Evidence 6:50 PM
Should Have Been Alone 6:53 PM
Message/Item Delivered Swift Not Rider Permit 6:53 PM
Caltrans Copz Thanks 6:54 PM
With Telephone Sgt 7:15 PM
Message/Item Delivered Julie at Swift 7:15 PM
Residence Lance South Just South of Sunol now Per 118-53 7:30 PM
Advise Air Ops not Tonight for the 2nd Set of Photos // Will not Be Clear in Time for Day Light 7:46 PM
Media Inqry Any Eto on Right Lane Plz? 8:18 PM
Request Mobile Signs and Cones 8:24 PM
Request Cal Transition and Cords / Will Be Ext Closure 8:24 PM
Not Eto at this Time 8:25 PM
If Cords Can Responding to Freeway for Direction Please 8:25 PM
Fire Request Cords-Pleasanton Sunol Road Closed 8:25 PM
Caltrans S Asking How Long is this Closure Going to Be? Will Have to Do a Call-Out/eta now 60 to 90 Min for Caltrans 8:26 PM
Message/Item Delivered Aso for CO Roads Advise Lines 91-95 8:30 PM
H30 Will Advise H32 of Line 85 8:33 PM
Caltrans S Copz/will Message/Item Delivered Dotcc/do Call-Out 8:33 PM
Caltrans Sign Crew ETA in 30 Min
Capt Has Eben Notfd 8:51 PM
Possible Cal Transition Can Post Signs at the Interchange Also 8:52 PM
Traffic Backed Up West to N Livermore 8:52 PM
Will Advise Dotcc 8:54 PM
Request Swift Telephone Sgt Cellular Phone // Message/Item Delivered 9:01 PM

I read these every day, the compressed little telegraphic short stories from the California Highway Patrol (CHP) dispatch, as relayed on KTVU's Bay Area traffic page. You'd probably need to be a Bay Area or California local to decode all of it (and if you're a Bay Area driver you probably need to read these things like I do). This one's longer than most; sometimes they end with "Roll Coroner"; this time the coroner gets mentioned about halfway through.

October 27, 2005

Nihilistic Narcissism

"A lot of people in Punk culture confuse a self-centered, nihilistic narcissism with anarchy, but freedom comes with certain responsibilities, and one of them is respecting other people. You can't just go on the air and degrade other people." Stephen Dunifer, quoted in an old East Bay Express article on Free Radio Berkeley.

Jeez, Steve, who'da thunk it?! You invite punks to the (FRB) party and some real punks turn up!

Punk was historically about freedom (and fun, dammit) without responsibility. Wasn't that the point (and wasn't that why so many of us outgrew it all so quickly)? Steve reminds me at times of an aging hippy version of the cliched young upper middle class wannabe dropout who joins up with a bunch of his hero punks and belatedly discovers that Punk isn't all front, and that some punks are very scary indeed, bent on mayhem and pain in truly destructive and offensive ways. It wasn't all lifestyle punquerie and nice fluffy bunny Anarchism (with a capital "A"). And it definitely wasn't (only) the idealistic, retrospectively cleaned-up and Progressive thing found in later revisionist manifestos.

(Part of Punk (and Later)).

October 25, 2005

Farewell My Concubine

"Farewell My Concubine": is there anything more deliriously alien and beautifully overwrought to the average Western Art mind (well, mine, at least) than Peking Opera? Even the colours run to different scales.... But what’s the lesson here? -- that heroically spiteful self-absorption wins out in the end? That to be truly apolitical means to prostitute yourself to all politics?

(Part of Flix).

October 22, 2005

Going To California

"Going to California. It is only three thousand miles nearer to hell...". -- Thoreau, in one of his crankier moods.

Going to California never meant living the California Dream, or self-reinvention, or any of those other cliches for me when I came here the first time. In fact back then I couldn't have told you what the "Californian Dream" was, I couldn't have cared less about self-reinvention, and I really didn't know much about California at all. It was just another part of America, one which supposedly had beaches, smog, cars, Disneyland, and a big city called Los Angeles somewhere. I knew from high school that its state capital was Sacramento, but I had no idea where Sacramento actually was, and had absolutely no idea about things like the state's geography or culture, etc. And why should I?

Rather, coming here meant feeling the sun on the back of my neck for the first time after all those grey years in London; it meant an unexpected landscape of desert, mountain, and coastline that's always made me feel deeply at home (I still remember flying into L.A. for the first time mid-winter and seeing the snow-capped San Gabriels towering up in the blue skies behind the city and the palm trees and thinking "I had no idea..."); it meant a place where possibility was taken for granted in ways that felt good after being ground down by London's "just say no" culture; and it meant a racial and cultural diversity that was both real and reassuring. It felt like coming home.

And it meant a personal relationship that bloomed (and then ended abruptly) that brought me here more permanently, and that started me on the track to becoming some sort of Californian, a good three thousand miles further from hell...

October 20, 2005

Beautifully Broken

"Every immigrant is broken, sometimes beautifully." -- from the intro to the new de Kooning bio (Stevens and Swan). One of those irritating grand gnomic phrases destined to be quoted as a meaningful-sounding epigram again and again. But what do they mean? What could they mean?

More gnomically, more ambiguously, every immigrant breaks...

October 17, 2005

Mea Culpa

"W.M.D. -- I got it totally wrong," she said. "The analysts, the experts and the journalists who covered them -- we were all wrong. If your sources are wrong, you are wrong. I did the best job I could." -- one of many typically self-serving quotes from Judith Miller in the NYT's pathetic public breast-beating yesterday.

Miller's "best job" was a terrible job. Once again, the NYT -- and Miller herself -- tries to pretend that everyone (not just the Times and an admittedly large part of US journalism in general) got it wrong. They still can't admit the obvious: once again, we weren't all wrong; we weren't all fooled. And those in the media or government who were, typically fooled themselves. Those who went beyond US government sources (which Miller doesn't appear to have thought much of doing) reported a rather different story.

And that's the real story here: for all little Miss Run Amok's self-image as an independent investigative reporter, she's really just another embedded journalist -- deeply embedded in the government mileu she thinks she's investigating. You just have to look at the list of people who visited or called her in jail to see how embedded -- or even in bed with -- that world she really was.

No excuses, guys.

October 16, 2005

The Full Story

There's an old homeless woman living in this car, just down the road from where I work in Silicon Valley's industrial Santa Clara. I walk past her several times a week on my way to pick up lunch on de la Cruz. She's been living there for at least two years now, but virtually none of my co-workers even know she exists (why would they? You'd have to walk rather than drive to notice her, and no one's going to walk in Santa Clara). She's sometimes yelling and screaming at imaginary people and things when I see her, but if you look at her walking down the street otherwise she just looks like a slightly down-at-heel older woman in her sixties or seventies.

What's intriguing about this is that the car and her are in the private parking lot of the big old Jeff Smurfit recycling plant on Martin Avenue. She's surrounded by (or only metres away from) workers and roach coaches, etc., every day of the week. No one seems to think it's odd that this derelict old car full of cardboard and old clothes and a screaming old lady has been left alone on private property in industrial Santa Clara for several years. Someone must have intervened -- or be intervening -- for that to continue in a place and culture that is otherwise quite ruthless about getting rid of derelicts and things that stand in the way of Progress.

I wish I knew the full story here.

October 14, 2005

The F Line

The F Line up to the Castro from Montgomery just after morning rush hour, a lovely twenty or thirty minute ride, one of the treats of the City (I take the Metro underground when I'm in a hurry). There's no more than a dozen riders in the tram (a lovingly-restored old 60's SF model), and the driver -- a large Latino-looking guy with an unplaceable accent -- shouts out the next stop each time. "Third Up! Third Up!" ... "Se'en Up! Se'en Up!", and, at Powell, "Powell Up! Powell Up! Macy's, Cable Cars, Union Square... tooooouuuuuuuurist heaven!". He's been carrying on a conversation with an amused middle-aged English tourist couple sitting near him, offering them bits of folklore about this or that around us; they get off at Powell, thanking him cheerily. At about Guererro the driver starts talking loudly and heatedly into a cell phone in Spanish about someone selling a car, but still manages to announce each stop and wave cheerfully and say "See you next time!" to everyone who gets off.

October 11, 2005

Womble Hopper Hall

There's a famously camp sculpture on the University of California campus in Berkeley, a delirious life-sized brass depiction of a couple of half-dressed muscular football players entwined in a heroically homerotic pose (par for the course with American football, of course...). I walk past it several times a week on my way up to Telegraph Avenue.

It's one of local sculptor Douglas Tilden's better-known works, produced for the University in the late 19th Century (Tilden was a man who deserves his own statue -- totally deaf, he became the first native Californian sculptor to establish a reputation for himself outside the state). As it says on the Gay Bears site, it delights and amuses knowing sophisticates now -- but that's not the point for me. On the base of the statue there's a list of names:
Craig Whipple Greisberg
Cornish Athearn Pringle
Womble Thane Hall
Kaarsberg Smith

Hill Whipple Greisberg
Cornish Athearn Pringle
Womble Hopper Hall
Kaarsberg Smith
Given my ... thing ... about American names, and without a clue what the statue was celebrating, I was never in doubt these were real names -- canonical American names, even -- and quickly adopted the name "Womble Hopper Hall" (occasionally "H. Womble Hall") as a pseudonym (yes, I have a lot of them, as many as the different personae I use for the different roles). I liked the idea that he had a brother, Womble Thane Hall, and Kaarsberg Smith sounded like a useful name to keep in mind for other projects, too (very masculine sounding).

It took me literally years to crack the code... (I've never been the sharpest tool in the toolshed).

October 09, 2005

She Adopted A Fawn

(For La Grande, who told me about the fawn): on Telegraph, on the south side of Mars, in foot-high letters: "Tawdry People Need Learn From Audrey Hepburn", a line I toy with -- a line that toys with me -- the rest of the day, a sign that mixes fleeting images of one of my own personal goddesses with the squalor on the street, a line that sails regally over the heads of the students and vendors setting up in the morning glare. On Bancroft next to Sproul there's a line hundreds of metres long of identicaly made-up and dressed students and locals queueing to apply to be in a new Berkeley edition of MTV's Real World.

Further down Telegraph I buy a new biography of de Kooning, which puts it all in perspective.

October 06, 2005

Three Strikes

Joan Didion's evocative list of the three sentences that come to mind when she thinks of California (from her "Where I Was From"):
"Point Conception to the Mexican border. The Range of Light. Beautiful country burn again, / Point Pinos down to the Sur rivers."
(I won't try explaining their origin -- if you're Californian, the first two (at least) are almost genetic). As she says, in a state largely overrun by people and sprawling suburbia, if you actually live here, it's still natural geography -- landscape -- that mostly comes to mind with "California".

These sentences work the same way for me -- California has that sort of hold on some people, and all three have strong meaning and connections in my mind -- but there's another California lurking here, the California that's both more interesting and more troubling, and that Didion aludes to inter-alia. Three sentences from that California:
Freeway drive-by shooting kills two. Four dead in East Palo Alto gang violence. Three strikes and you're out.
Or, a three sentence meditation on the flip side of landscape:
Mud slides in Malibu. Oakland Hills firestorm kills 25. Five dead in Sierra avalanche.
And you could say almost as much (or more?) about California with just three sentences like this:
Interstate 5. The Orange Crush. The Rosedale Highway.
Didion's original three sentences sound like an ellegy for a California that both never was and still is. Three strikes and it's out...

(Part of California).

October 03, 2005



Dawn, Badwater, Death Valley. Tourists.

October 02, 2005

Lee Vining

Lee Vining: 7,000' up the Eastern Sierra overlooking Mono Lake, the sort of place that has a large bunch of Harleys parked outside Bodie Mike's Rib Joint, while the grocery store next door has Tasty Bite, imported Basmati rice, and home-made organic bread along with the processed cheese and bad beer. The Mono Lake information center further down Main Street has the entire Putumayo collection, Earl Sruggs CDs, scented meditation candles, and Yoga books among the postcards, maps, and guidebooks. An aging biker in greasy leather jacket and pants, sweaty headband, handle-bar mustache, red leather face, and long balding grey hair tied into a pony tail furtively browses the candles while his girlfriend keeps squeezing the different bird toys to get them to make canned bird calls, over and over. In the background the Putumayo "Brazil" CD plays on, a weird touch of colour and warmth in the washed out light and driving cold winds around here.

October 01, 2005


Stockton, Manteca, Escalon, Jamestown, Twain Harte, Sonora, out into the haze, the valley, the inhabitation, the long horizons, out into the memories of language (those dense little phrases in folded hills), the fleeting back alleys of meaning, the golden-brown intimations of body, the fractured translations of surface....

Around Sonora the landscape reminds me of Coonabarabran, dry grass, dark trees in thin clumps here and there across the landscape; then the pale pinks and yellows of the Sierra granite, the dark reds and blacks of the volcanic dirt, the Sierra light, the box canyon at the 8,000’ level on Sonora Pass, looking east from 10,000' at Kennedy Meadows, the short descent to Route 395.

Past Bridgeport a very serious-looking girl, maybe ten, with long braided blonde hair, walks over to me from the school party parked at the vista point, and asks: "Mister, can I take your photo?". I say "Sure" (without having any idea why she wants it), and just as she presses the shutter button I leap into the air with my arms stretched up in front of the view. She suddenly grins helplessly and says "Mister, do that again!". So I do. At least five more times. Somewhere out there in junior school land there are these inexplicable photos of a really badly-dressed guy in black jeans, T-shirt, dark glasses, and hiking boots jumping up in front of the beautiful view of the Sierra with a silly smile on his face.

www Tight Sainthood