A contagious confluence, metaphorical hydraulics in chronofluidity, multiple rippling effects.

Location: Lawrence, Kansas

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Inbox Outtakes, another take

Hellenic cartons
purvey heroic faceplates
and horehound harpies.

Catfish withdrawal,
plush behavioral home deals:

Benedictions blaspheme.
Shrinks put money in pockets.
Pitfalls culminate.

Locke Takes Stock

His parents had named him John Locke, after an ancestor, but when Flint saw the documentary on his namesake on the Enlightenment Channel, he recoiled at the sensational notion of the tabula rasa, and changed his name. Flint was solid. Flint was used for arrowheads, for starting fires. Flint was a good name for the leader of the South Carolina Aryan Troopers. Hard, sharp, fiery. Flint Locke formed SCAT with a few of his drinking buddies after studying frame-by-frame, pixel-by-pixel, all the video he could find of the airliners crashing into the World Trade Center. His study required patience. It required time. His eyes burned and blurred from the hours spent at the computer monitor. He called in sick several days to continue the scrutiny when he sensed a breakthrough. His boss at the textile factory was ready to fire his ass, but Flint had come in handy in the past when the union organizers had come to town. As Flint slowed, stilled, enlarged, and parsed the images from that terrible day, he knew he was not looking at an “airliner” “crashing” into a building and then “exploding.” No, the “airliner” clearly melted, for lack of a better descriptor, into the side of the building. It dissolved without leaving a trace, and then something else happened inside, not an explosion but rather something almost subatomic. There could be no doubt. The “airliners” were holograms, or something similar, a great deception, while someone (he had a pretty good idea who) triggered some sort of black ops technology to create an international incident. He had read about dark energy and the scientists on Long Island creating trillion-degree subatomic fireballs by crashing beams of gold nuclei into each other. He was sickened. He organized the Aryan Troopers the next day, right after work, at the Hole.

Inbox Outtakes, continued

Abnormal, askew
The palladium averts
assonant agents.

Assume admission,
limited, superficial,
gothic post mortem.

Acceptor caution
curling the ionosphere--
ascetic cider.

Aldermen stomping
an amateurish hopscotch--
lobotomy glue

Horrible spoilage--
Gangster auditorium--
Dead comedians.

No pacifism
Estimable Winchester
Shortsighted barrel

Shakespearean snuff,
Goshawk Augustus cavorts--
Autumnal coachman.

bedridden, bimodal doll,
elicits gossip.

Monday, November 29, 2004

More Inbox Outtakes

Mescal chaos entranceway!
Please decompile me.

TV with no boundaries--
Watch it at no charge.


Every year around this time I’m reminded that a product called Tofurkey exists and that some people actually buy and consume the stuff. Tofurkey is a tofu product seasoned and sculpted to resemble turkey. The reasons for this masquerade are probably obvious, but it makes my head hurt to think about them.

So how about a new product for the Thanksgiving table? It’s turkey processed into an off-white boneless brick, packed in water, to resemble tofu. Let’s call it Faux-Fu. Now you can trick your vegetarian friends into eating turkey. Or maybe you really like the taste of turkey but prefer the look and feel of tofu. Then, Faux-Fu is fo’ you!

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

More Inbox Outtakes (Spam Haiku)

Abnormal segments
the additional Guernsey
watches at no charge.

Taxes will be small cause,
antiquated census sighs,
to calcify froth.

the worst cryptanalyst honks
at distant clergy.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Diversity in Kansas

“God hates Canadian string quartets,” read the sign held by a member of a local hate group picketing the Center for Performing Arts as we entered. They didn’t know the half of it. This string quartet would be performing klezmer music with a Methodist clarinetist.

Nachonal Anthem

One night last winter in Allen Fieldhouse, before the Jayhawks played a mediocre game against the mediocre University of Richmond Spiders and lost by a point in the last twenty seconds, a woman sitting in front of us held her plate of nachos to her breast for the national anthem.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Report from Bread Tray Mountain

He had known about Bread Tray Mountain even before “Madame Blavatsky”’s Web link had sent him into the Ozarks. The ghost lights had baffled generations of southern Missourians and generated a variety of explanations. They were ghosts of lost Spanish explorers, UFOs, teenagers with lanterns, each generation taking its turn at perpetuating a hoax. They were caused by foxfire or some earthly gaseous seepage like that from the fissure over which the Pythia perched in ancient Delphi. They were products of mass delusion, angelic visitations. A camera crew from the “Haunted Highways” television show once spent a week in the area, shooting a documentary on unexplained phenomena in rural America. They heard lots of stories but saw no ghost lights. And every year, there would be new sightings on Bread Tray Mountain.

When Lenny went underground in the Ozarks, he grew a long beard and shaved his head, not that very many people in the area around Bread Tray Mountain would have recognized the keyboardist from the defunct Fecal Matters anyway. He put all of his keyboards in storage, but kept the Hammond B3 in his Toyota pickup, under the camper shell. He rented a trailer in a trailer park in Cabool and started working gigs at several venues in the area under the stage name Ali MuHammond. It was a living, and during vacation season at the lake, he did pretty well on tourist dollars. Mainly he performed instrumentals of “classic rock” tunes like “Light My Fire” and “Satisfaction,” stuff his aging audience would recognize and nod to while carrying on conversation over the B3’s warm, smoky harmonics.

He was doing his usual Saturday night gig at the Holiday Inn on Tablerock Lake. The room was about half full, mostly people in bright print shirts and blouses, khaki shorts or slacks, tanned or burned, winding down after a day of golf or boating. Ice was clinking in glasses, voices and laughter ebbed and flowed across the room’s surface, and Lenny was building to the “feed your head” crescendo in “White Rabbit,” when he noticed a rugged looking middle aged man enter and take a table in front. Lots of grey in his hair, leathery face and hands, and hard eyes that focused on Lenny, in what felt to him like a cross between meditative gaze and psychotic stare. There were little slap-slaps of applause as he finished, and he acknowledged his audience with a quiet thanks. The man got up from the table and leaned toward Lenny, propping one rough hand on the B3. “Do you know ‘Music from before the Beginning of Time’?” he asked. “I don’t think so. How’s it go?” His eyes pierced Lenny’s, but almost quizzically. “It’s a verrrry slow blues,” he replied. Then he reached into his shirt pocket, retrieved a fiver, slapped it onto the B3, turned, and was gone.

Lenny played the rest of the gig but was preoccupied with the stranger and the five dollar bill. He’d noticed a piece of red tape on the back of the bill, with Japanese characters and, presumably, their English translation: “Scan for origins.” It was familiar, but he couldn’t quite place it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

More Inbox Outtakes

Useful pollsters leave.
Boardinghouse nasturtiums die.
Babylon forklift!

Good measure: get back,
hermeneutic transducer,
wiretapping suffrage.

found checkbook adequacy
a mawkish augur.

a touchy tabernacle--
enormous ribbons.

Drafty dinnertime--
an iambic embassy
crawlspace reception.

Herr Uproarious
stamps virginal accretion.
Distinct boots conquer.

Internecine spite--
carcinoma panoply--
galactic tattoo

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Inbox Outtakes (Found Spam Haiku)

Useful pollsters leave
Boardinghouse nasturtiums die
Babylon forklift

Monday, November 15, 2004

News Release from the Mortal Majority

My sister emailed yesterday to report that her spray-on suntan salon is being picketed by a group calling themselves South Carolina Aryan Troopers (or SCAT). This group denounces “race traitors who alter the pale pure color of their skin to pursue vanity on our state’s beaches.” Traditional tanning salons, with their lamps and tanning beds, have not been targeted for demonstrations. SCAT’s leader says with a chuckle that race traitors who visit these establishments pay for their transgression with melanomas, nature’s way of saying don’t betray your nature. But the new spray-on technology was a slap in the pale face of SCAT, a dermatologist-approved way to effect the browning of South Carolina.

Friday, November 12, 2004

The Reagan Shirt

I was wearing the green Ronald Reagan print sport shirt my wife had given me. It was dotted with Reagan’s visage, intertwined with lariats and other cowboy motifs, like a kid’s lunchbox from the ‘50s. It made me feel both naïve and ironic at the same time. Guests milled around the living room, drinks in hand, awkward conversations stop-starting.

I said to the woman standing next to me, “Wordsworth’s ‘green shade’ typifies Romanticism, with its reference to nature without having a referent in nature.”

She replied, “When I typed the phrase ‘the last page of the Internet’ into Google, I got 406 results. They can’t all be last.”

“The first one is always the best match,” I answered. “The first shall be last.”

“So you’re telling me that Wordsworth wore one of those green eyeshades, like an accountant or a riverboat gambler?”

“I don’t know, but I like the image. It would cast a whole new light on Romanticism.”

“Yeah, with a green eyeshade, Coleridge might not have gotten into drugs.”

I didn’t know how much longer I could keep this going. I looked around the room for my wife to save me, but didn’t see her, and then excused myself.

I stepped to the fringes of a group of four—three women and a man. One of the women concluded her story by saying, in a drawn out, demonstrative way, “He’s such a Ne-an-derthal,” with the others laughing appreciatively. If I was going to jump in, now was the time. “Well, I’ve heard it said that Neanderthal is to homo sapiens as Abel was to Cain,” and gave the group a knowing wink.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Planet-Formation Theorist’s Haiku

It’s a mess out there

Planets form like dust bunnies
In vacant bedrooms.

Found Haikus

From signs in the Japanese garden of the Missouri Botanical Gardens:


“Stay on stepping stones”
(sign in Japanese garden)
“when walking the path.”


Japanese garden—
“Take a brochure from the box.”
The box is empty.

The Last Words Project, Set Four

  • I got lost in translation.
  • Did you get the license tag of that wingéd chariot?
  • The sky has never been so open.
  • No horizon.
  • The past is all.
  • As a child, I feared my parents would abandon me.
  • I can’t hear you. You’re breaking up.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The Last Words Project, Set Three

  • I think this is where I came in.
  • I can hear the Sirens singing.
  • Soon I’ll be smoke. (Thanks, Lou.)
  • There were times when I almost got it.
  • If I disappointed myself, I know I disappointed others.
  • It’s hard to quit.
  • This is easy.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Jason and the Rill World

From a safe vantage point, Jason observed the rare flooding of the arroyo. The Channel Tao people would be arriving later in the day to televise the flow, so he wanted to enjoy the scene before the vans and satellite dish arrived and disturbed the landscape. Behind him, the yak herd grazed idly. His friends kidded him about the Golden Fleece, but they were impressed that yak wool actually sold for $70 a pound. He didn’t tell them about the dragon’s teeth he’d been planting.

Before moving to this high dry parcel in northern New Mexico, Jason had been on the holographic team of the misbegotten and ill-fated Land of Oz themepark project in eastern Kansas. He was involved in the cool part of the project—creating holographic and other technologically enhanced environments for tourists and funlovers to immerse themselves in. His drawing board overflowed with emerald cities, talking trees, flying monkeys, and of course yellow brick roads. It was to be a larger than life virtual reality. It was never quite clear why the park’s creator decided to build it in Kansas, aside from the Oz connection. Everyone knew that theme parks need to operate year round and be a “destination.” Kansas was a good place to live, but who would want to visit? Between the blast furnace summers and meat locker winters there were a few weeks of moderate temperatures, which usually coincided with battering winds spring and fall. To top it off, the proposed site was a decomissioned munitions reservation, home to acres and acres of hazardous waste. Way over the rainbow this place was.

The Last Words Project, Set Two

  • I’m ready for a change.
  • Right on time.
  • I forgot my password.
  • I want to thank everyone who made this moment possible.
  • So what’s the punch line?
  • This is just the beginning…of a mass extinction.
  • More salt!

Friday, November 05, 2004

The Predictive Model and the Goat Trail

I've been thinking that there must be some way to create a predictive model for what I do, but I haven't decided what the relevant set of indices or indicators should be, and whether they should be leading or trailing indicators, or a combination, or two separate sets. Obvious candidates are temperature, atmospheric pressure, probably humidity, at least one macroeconomic index (the Russell 2000 or the Tao?), at least one microeconomic index (outstanding loan balances?), diurnal medication patterns, diet, rapid eye movement (but that would require some expensive medical equipment, which would skew the outstanding loan balance), blood pressure. I'll require a sizable Excel spreadsheet to chart all of these, and I'll have to determine some common scale that will allow me to overlay the indices on a grid to look for coincidence, confluence, divergence. Having hedged the project with caveats, I still really want to be able to predict where I'm going.

Some people just beat a path, like the apartment dweller whose mountains of newspapers and magazines collapsed on him. The sociologist who studies this phenomenon called them goat trails--narrow paths for scrabbling from one room to another. I think of my recent dreams as something like goat trails. I can't see much to my right or left, and my footing is uncertain, but they always lead somewhere, even if it is only to the bathroom.

The Last Words Project, First Set

The Last Words Project, first set:

  • Enough already.
  • My life turned out better than I thought it would.
  • I wish I hadn’t taken the anti-depressants.
  • But I’m supposed to have a colonoscopy next week.
  • I hear voices but no one’s there.
  • Keep to the goat trail.
  • Words have always failed me.
  • I’m ready to go rafting down Milky Way Creek.
  • I forgot to check my expiration date.
  • Your results may vary.
  • I meant to read War and Peace.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Wrong Name, Wrong Face, Wrong Place

Ness City, Kansas, is "out west," where the population thins, the elevation rises gradually but steadily to the front range of the Rockies, and the water level in the Oglallah aquifer, also steadily but not so gradually, declines.

Ness City is the county seat of Ness County, population 3454. The town and the county were named after Noah Van Buren Ness, a soldier in the Union army, who died in battle in 1864. He had moved from Ohio to southeast Kansas in the mid-1800s. He never set foot in what is now Ness County. In fact, he was probably never closer than 200 miles to the place that, for reasons that are unclear, bears his name.

Or what the namers thought was his name, anyway. Newly discovered records, including a document with his signature, reveal that Noah's name was spelled Kness. The town and county's spelling probably came from 1860 census records, probably from a phonetic spelling.

Four years ago, before this recent discovery, the citizens of Ness County raised $50,000 to erect a bronze statue to their nonfounding father namesake. The statue of course bears the now-known-to-be-incorrect spelling. Further, the artist who designed the statue had no old photographs or other likenesses to work from, only military records, which gave such physical details as height and weight, maybe hat and boot size.

Now, probably not surprisingly, a photograph has also turned up, and the statue bears no resemblance at all to Noah.

Noah Van Buren Kness--a man immortalized by a town and county of which he knew nothing, his name misspelled, with a likeness not at all like Kness.

The Last Words Project

He had gotten up early for the past week to work on his Last Words Project. He had read that Pancho Villa, gunned down in Chihuahua, had exited muttering, “Don’t let it end like this. Tell them I said something.” Granted, some mortal occasions might be so sudden, so unanticipated, that there would be no moment for words of moment. But he thought there was no excuse not to be prepared, that one should try to go out on a memorable note. He researched the subject. It seemed that all the elemental exit speeches had already been made. Goethe asked for “more light.” O. Henry pulled off a nice variation: “Turn up the lights. I don’t want to go home in the dark.” And Rudolph Valentino: “Don’t pull down the blinds. I feel fine. I want the sunlight to greet me.” Ulysses Grant left thirsty: “Water!” But not Lou Costello: “That was the best ice-cream soda I ever tasted.” John Maynard Keynes said, “I wish I had drunk more champagne.” Picasso simply said, “Drink to me!”

“Let me finish my work,” begged Isaac Babel before the Soviet secret police pulled the trigger on him.

What should be his final attitude toward life and death? Celebratory? Disappointed? Regretful? Triumphal and affirmative? Defeated and gloomy? Wryly humorous? Darkly humorous? Warm and sentimental? Cynical? Depending on how he felt when the moment came, it could be any of these. That was the point. He needed to decide now how he wanted to be perceived at departure time, have the appropriate words, and stick to the script. One’s dying is not the time to be “in the moment.”

What about length? His research suggested, not surprisingly, that brevity was best, not only from an aesthetic and mnemonic perspective, but also from the very real likelihood that the dying declaimer won’t have much time or breath. Not that brevity is all. Grant’s “water” just sounded like a joke at his expense after a lifetime of whiskey. (But what were the details? Maybe Grant had been drinking whiskey at the time and just called for a chaser before departing.)

What if no one is there to hear the last words? Or the person is deaf, or has an ear infection? Or is so distracted attending a dying man that he or she simply won’t remember what was said? That argued for keeping hard copy on one’s person at all times. And that would be a good backup if he forgot his last words and had time to refer to the hard copy. (Although he wondered what it would look like to onlookers to be digging a slip of paper out of his pocket to read his dying words to his auditors. Was that how he wanted to be remembered? Better just learn the lines.) What about tattooing it in an easy to read location? A cassette tape was another option. Or a microchip in the ear lobe, encoded with digital video of his declaiming the last words in better days. Nah.

The Expanding Universe

A recent newspaper article announced that more than 70 percent of the universe consists of something called dark energy, which has just been discovered. The other constituents are dark matter, and then all the stars, planets, asteroids, etc. Dark energy is what's pushing the universe ever outward, and as best as "we" can tell, space is not curved but indeed infinite and expanding. (And how can something be infinite if it's expanding?) Meanwhile, a guy in an apartment in NYC almost died when ceiling high stacks of newspapers and magazines that filled his apartment fell in on him. Don't talk to him about expanding universes, buddy.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Ulysses and Troy in Topeka

The state representatives from Troy and Ulysses sat at the bar in Po’re Richards in downtown Topeka. Speculation had long since ended on why there was an apostrophe in Po’re and none in Richards. The two representatives had little in common except for the epic names of their home towns and their agreement that public exhibitions of hypnotism should be legal. One was Republican, the other Democrat. One was an anti-evolutionist, the other not. One wanted to conceal her sidearm, not the other. Troy and Ulysses were, not surprisingly, at opposite corners of the state. Sometimes they joked about boosting tourism in Kansas by changing the names of other struggling small towns in the state to Ithaca, Cassandra, Penelope, Hector, Helen, Priam, Achilles. They once got into an argument about the last one. The representative from Troy thought it should be Achilleus, true to the original Greek. The representative from Ulysses would not allow such a precedent, fearing that her own home town might be expected to change its name to Odysseus. Anyway, the idea of promoting a “Kansas Odyssey,” as they called it, had great potential. The interstate could become a sort of four-lane Aegean, with rest stops renamed to support the theme: “Lotos Eaters Rest Stop Next Exit—Food, Drink, Fuel, Lodging—You’ll Never Want to Leave.” The highway department could post signs with a cyclops saying, “Watch your speed—we’re keeping an eye on you” and “If you’re obeying the law, you won’t hear the Sirens” (this one would have to be positioned before entering Salina). The possibilities were endless, as they say—“to the stars!”

On this evening, however, they were not discussing the Kansas Odyssey. Instead they were watching the pictures just in from the Hubble telescope on a television suspended above the bar. These were pictures from the Beginning of Time, said the news announcer’s voice, wild galaxies only a half billion years removed from the Big Bang. These images from what was called the “Ultra Deep Field” were so remote and in such a tiny piece of the sky that viewing them was said to be like looking through an eight-foot long soda straw. Ulysses was having enough trouble imagining that straw, let alone the vastness of the Ultra Deep Field. All Troy could think about was the statue of the Kansa warrior atop the capitol, bow and arrow pointed skyward. He wondered where that arrow was pointed and made a mental note to find out.

How could the Hubble scientists know where in the heavens to point their eight-foot soda straw and find the center of the cosmos, Troy wondered out loud. Ulysses looked at the colorful, odd-shaped galactic images on the tv screen and said, “You know, if the universe is expanding and we’re moving ever outward, then we’re not really moving toward the stars but away from them. We may need to introduce legislation to change the state motto.”

Troy thought about it. “Instead of ‘ad astra per aspera,’ it should be ‘ex astra per aspera?” he asked. But then he wondered about the “per aspera” part. How difficult is it really, if instead of aspiring and struggling ever onward toward some bright, shining destiny, we’re actually just riding a cosmic pinball launched fourteen billion years ago? “Hey,” answered Ulysses, “it couldn’t have been easy for our pioneer mothers when that Big Bang thing happened.”

Originally a statue of Ceres was to have topped the Kansas capitol dome. In fact, the statue was still in a crate somewhere in the capitol basement. Ceres, goddess of grain, fertility, and agrarian prosperity, was just too pagan, even in her modest classical stone drapery, for most of the state’s legislators. Every couple of decades, a legislator would take up the cause to free her from her basement crate and hoist her up to the top of the Topeka skyline, but each time the effort failed. For decades, nothing graced the dome but a large, not very bright, bare light bulb to alert low-flying aircraft.

At some point late in the twentieth century, a majority of representatives agreed that the statehouse needed a more suitable symbol atop the dome to represent the gravity of their endeavors beneath the dome. The solution was the Kansa Indian shooting an arrow into the air, no matter that the last Kansa had been driven from the state bearing their name more than a century earlier. The statue was commissioned and a design approved. Some legislators thought a statue of a pioneer woman would be more appropriate. The vote split on gender lines. Others expressed concern that the warrior was nearly naked (even the voluptuous Ceres had been robed). The Republican majority argued that savages were supposed to be naked and to depict the warrior any other way would be revisionist history. When the statue was completed it went on tour around the state for everyone to see before its ascension. Somewhere during this grand tour, it occurred to someone that the statue was really heavy. Engineers were called in to take some measurements and make some calculations. The capitol dome was not strong enough to support the Kansa. The legislature would need to appropriate nearly a million dollars to reinforce the dome.

The upshot, so to speak, of this saga, Troy was to learn a few days later, was that the reinforcement of the dome elevated the statue six inches higher than it would originally have been placed. Coincidentally but also consequently, he learned from an astronomer at the state university down the road, the extra six inches put the Kansa’s arrow exactly on line with the Ultra Deep Field at the far end of the eight-foot soda straw. Were it not for gravity and the fact that he was cast in metal, the warrior could have fired his arrow straight into the Beginning of Time.