There are reasons why a woman walks down a street each morning. Why a woman wears a peculiar sort of hat when she walks down that street. Why she doesn't seem to notice the passing cars, but looks forward, a neutral expression on her face, in her eyes.
And there are reasons why it is difficult to tell if this woman is young or old, slender or withered. Does she walk with an easy vitality or painful determination? Each step seems careful, deliberate, yet this could be an expression of a natural, unconscious grace. The only clear thing is that her pace is relaxed, nothing to set anyone's heart racing.
The hat conceals much of her face, yet is revealing. It's a purposeful hat, made to keep the sun off a persons' face and neck. It isn't a vain hat, it isn't a showy hat, yet it calls more attention to itself and to its wearer than any pretty straw creation. The hat and the walk seem to say "we are practical and we are independent".
The hat allows a glimpse of her profile. Strong nose, full lips. Her eyes are in darkness. Each morning she is familiar, yet each morning she seems new. Seen anywhere else, at another time of day, she might not be recognized as the woman who walks in the mornings. Seen without the hat.
So, a walker in the morning. Not early morning, when things are very cool and quiet, but at the time people are traveling to work, at a busy time. And she walks along a busy street. She is not seeking solitude, quiet contemplation, or the experience of nature. Perhaps she walks to be famous.
For weeks, for months I see her walking, and I learn nothing more about her. It's true, I don't think anything of her until I see her again.

But today the enigma was revealed. She was walking with her back to me, up the near side of the street. As if no one could be watching, she reached out as she walked and ran her hand through the lush green leaves of the hedge that she was passing, and I knew her.

July 3, 1998

Evil along the Mississippi River

You say Chicago is an evil city. I say that the evil there is the sort of beat-down, washed-out evil that remains when evil has encountered so much of itself that it loses its power.

Evil flowed up the river to Chicago from further down, where it was stronger, purer, and less easy to dodge. Yes, in Chicago, evil is everywhere, but it's a hang-dog sort of evil, it's got it easy and it knows it. It's ordinary, normal.

You've gotta go further down for the good stuff.

Say St. Louis. It's a town where murder still means something. It's a mean town, but it's mean on purpose, not like Chicago which is mean out of habit.

Further down, Kansas City. In Kansas City evil still has some style. In K.C. there's a gleam in its eye, a spring in its step. It's still able to find some real suckers there, suckers who've never before even heard of the evil things they can get up to. Kansas City has some sass.

Then you come to the end of the line, or the beginning in this case- New Orleans. Evil in New Orleans doesn't even know that it is evil. It's an option, something to be taken up and put down again, like Jesus. Evil is like a fresh-faced baby in New Orleans, bawling for mamma to hold it and feed it.

But the seed of it, the very secret source of it all, is out there in the delta. There is where you'd find yourself face to face with the irresistible force of it. You'd have no choice, there's be no where to turn, nowhere to hide. No deal to be made, no options. Just you and evil, take it or leave it.

April 12, 2022

The path from Norman Rockwell to The Simpsons
(it runs through Charles Schulz)

What is it that we mean when we talk about a "vision of America"? Is it a vision to be hoped for or a vision to be feared? What's its function? Can we use a vision of America to help us live our lives?

We seem to need, or at least want, such a thing. Almost every American has a vision of America handy at all times. It's a filter, a frame, a model, an ideal. It's a creation that makes it possible to swiftly judge any public event.

And so there is always a demand for these creations. They come in many varieties but there is always one version that seems to be the accepted one, both by those who cherish it and those who despise it. Call it the most useful "vision".

Norman Rockwell was, for a long time, the keeper of the most useful VOA. His vision cast a spotlight on simple people in common situations. A man is dismayed to find he has grown too heavy to fit into his old army uniform. A kid with a fishing pole and a dog head off for a day beside a stream. A young mother prepares for a dinner date while her little girl watches, transfixed by her transformation. Most people would agree that these were "good things".

The rules changed with the advent of the comic strip "Peanuts", although we still had a spotlight shining on the ordinary, the regular guy. His name was Charlie Brown, and the fact that he was a little kid did not prevent him from pondering the meaning of his existance. He was living in the Norman Rockwell America, but he didn't feel as though he was a part of it.

The early Peanuts gang only engaged with the world at the level of basic emotions: pride, fear, love, anger, and, most especially, humiliation. It didn't matter that the subject could be a kite-eating tree or a football-snatching fuss-budget, the resulting pain exposed the new Vision of America to us.

Or simply reflected it back to us. It was impossible to actually live in the Rockwell America. That America was always 20 years in the past, and when Rockwell began depicting the actual realities of the 1950's his popularity declined. So along came Charlie.

There were alternatives. For a while Walt Kelly seemed ready to nationalise his VOA with the world Pogo inhabited, but acknowledging that "the enemy was us" was more than mainstream America could accept. The go-go 1960's required simple people living in a state of shock, of constant anxiety. America had lost its grip.

But the Peanuts gang never lost track of the old ways. It always seemed as though there was a way back, and that even the most miserable little stick of a Christmas tree could contain the Magic Key. It must have been real! How was it that we had lost it?

It was then that Schulz began to direct our attention inwards, to the Snoopy in each of us, to a world of imaginary victories, and some real joys. Dancing was good- so dance! The family dog who had been dependent on Charlie to bring him dinner every night began to provide what the family had been missing- a reason to live.

But with these changes the strip lost its relevance. Many if not most of us had no inner dog of joy- he'd run off sometime, or been hit by a car. We had gotten so used to mocking our Charlie Brown loser selves that we couldn't remember a time when we believed in winning.

And so "Good Grief!" got replace by "Eat My Shorts!" If we couldn't have the Vision of America that had been promised to us (if we did the right things), we could damn well make fun of it! By now the Rockwell ideal of Freedom from Want had come to pass- we didn't want anything. We could all have a great big turkey on the table at Thanksgiving. It was too bad that we didn't have the capacity to feel thankful for it.

So it is that several generations of us have lived with the same Vision of America- a fumbling, bumbling Homer Simpson America where we powerless, simple people have been stripped of our sense of worth in exchange for a fake pride in a way of life that is less based on reality than Norman Rockwell's "always 20 years ago" ideal. Homer and Marge are still in love- and they always will be.


Bish and Linda Parker.

Bish explains how they got "baked out" of Texas ten years back, how they moved through the Northwest (too damn liberal) and ended up in Alaska, where they could be free.

Alaska turned out to be a little too free, so they joined a resettlement program, moving back to Texas where they now live near the coast in the new, mostly underground city of John Galt. The move was subsidised by RedState, the corporation that was running the show for their half of the country. Bish has a job in security in John Gault which supplements the couples' guaranteed income. Their apartment and utilities are, of course, paid for by RedState.

Along with millions of other "New Pioneers", Bish and Linda reliably support RedState candidates for state and federal office, helping to maintain RedState's control of the United States Senate. RedState is the organisation of the mostly abandoned regions of the United States hardest hit by climate change. Led by the "state" of Alaska, and financed partially through the sales of fossil fuels, beef, and uranium, RedState exists as a quasi-independent country within a country.

Years back, while fretting over the loss of his constituents (and loss of the dry land which made up his district), U.S. Representative from Florida Josiah Snubb hit upon the idea of RedState as a way of helping folks survive the massive changes they were going through. He would continue to represent them, no matter where they were forced to flee, through RedState. As shareholders in the corporation, they could vote for board members who would, in turn, fight for their interests on the national stage.

Josiah was not the only one who foresaw the decline of national political power for red states as the Southern regions of the country were "distilled" or covered by sea water. Money poured in from wealthy donors. RedState, as a corporation, needed only the cover as a "research institution" to be able to dispose of these funds through the various programs they developed to maintain their hold on majorities in the "fried zone".

...to be continued

The Camel Jumper

There was a playroom, or just a room with a few toys and nothing else in it. Some children, very young children, were in it. A boy wanted to cross this room, but at times the location would change to that of a high desert encampment.

The light in this desert location was thin and low, and it may have been cold. A large group of robed desert people were there, and the time was long ago. As the small boy crossed the playroom, he would appear in the midst of this circle of desert people.

He was able to save his life by doing some trick, but it was as if he would not keep these somewhat hostile people confused long enough for him to cross the room. Fortunately, there was an even younger (or just smaller) boy in the room with him who was also travelling back to this desert. (The change from location to location was a long, grainy fade rather than an abrupt switch. The desert location was yellowish, and the fade would begin with this yellowish grainyness appearing in the room)

The smaller boy wasn't as far across the room, but he had a better trick. He had some sort of a wooden contraption- sort of crutch-shaped, but with a dog-leg bend in it. It was apparently part of the gear used to hold cargo on the backs of camels. The smaller boy would use this stick to vault, or turn a sumersault in the air, in the midst of the circle of desert people.

It amazed them, and the boy gained their favor by turning exactly 27 perfect sumersaults altogether. He was known as the cameljumper.