“Life isn’t knights riding around on horseback. It’s a fight for a knife. In the mud.”
–Logan Roy, Succession
Now that the President of the United States, Joseph R. Biden, has solemnly declared a winter of death and severe illness, I thought I’d take a moment to publicly demand more bread and circuses. Certainly, after two years of pumping terror and suspicion into the atmosphere we are owed something better than a four team college football playoff, or the Abysmal Bears vs the Piss Poor Vikings on that creaking legacy piece known as MNF. And so to elevate the power of distractions to actually distract, I’m calling for a televised duel: Herr Fauci vs. Rand Paul with smoothbore pistols at dawn. I’d like this to happen in Las Vegas, and I want it live on all of the streaming platforms, with strict adherence to the ancient Code Duello. Harry Dean Stanton is no longer with us, so I’ll settle for Peter Dinklage as referee.
I realized last week that scrolling through Facebook is exactly like walking through a jail and listening to inmates arguing between their cells. If you’ve never been in a jail and enjoyed that distinct pleasure, I’d recommend arranging a tour. Perhaps nowhere outside of social media are more armchair experts, pure innocents, and retired generals gathered in the same place, endlessly and pointlessly screeching at each other in the bad lighting, bad smells, and block-wall echo chambers.
Of course, imprisonment and forms of punishment have come a long way over the years. In old Rome precipitation (throwing people off a cliff) was always a crowd pleaser, clubbing to death was the punishment for “writing scurrilous songs about a citizen”, and culleus (confining the offender in a sack with an ape, a dog, and a serpent, then throwing the whole sack into the ocean) was a fun judicial remedy. First century historian Diodorus Siculus wrote a nice passage about the prison where Perseus, king of Macedonia, found himself:
“The prison is a deep underground dungeon, no larger than (a dining-room that could hold nine people), dark and noisome from the large numbers committed to the place, who were men under condemnation on capital charges, for most in this category were incarcerated there at this period. With so many shut up in such close quarters, the poor wretches were reduced to the appearance of brutes, and since their food and everything pertaining to their other needs was all so foully commingled, a stench so terrible assailed anyone who drew near it that it could scarcely be endured.”
That’s about as accurate a description of social media as I’ve seen anywhere, and it amuses me to think of Metaverse Zuckerburg –who was brilliantly mocked by the entire nation of Iceland–
as a kind of 13th century Pope, sitting in his office weighted down with rape whistles, pepper spray, and VR goggles as the anointed “Inquisitor of Heretical Depravity.” That Facebook deliberately scuttled The Great Barrington Declaration gives at least some insight to his conceits.
I have been thinking much about prisons and confinement recently, given our new national predilections for emergency powers, lockdowns, and fear-based punishments of the innocent–and also because we’ve begun filming a new documentary on the closure of the California Correctional Center in Susanville, California. It’s an interesting question to ask what happens to a very small town when they close down half of its economic base—which happens to be a prison. It’s even more interesting when it has strong political undertones.
We were returning home from our first few days of filming last week when I earned a speeding ticket. I was really enjoying the tremendous power of my fossil-fuel powered Ram 2500, cruising through the winter marvel of high desert pogonip at about 90 mph, when I pinged the hull of a Highway Patrolman coming the other way. To be fair, I was racing a brewing winter blizzard—which we eventually ran into near Silver Lake, Oregon, but I didn’t offer any excuses. I never do. I found early on it’s just better to own your own shit and deal with it. For my goodly nature the patrolman scratched me a citation for 80 in a 65 and we parted friends in front of the snowbound and now defunct Madeline gas station. Behind him the desert was a dark scape full of snow and ice and I recalled fond memories of chasing bison in that same place in the long ago, when men were probably less encumbered.
I’ve been stymied on the writing front for a while, which has at least something to do with notions of self-censorship imposed, in part, by the noisy debates in my own parliament of personal demons, and of course by the self-righteous climate that dominates the world’s bandwidth at the moment. Part of me just doesn’t have the energy to continue arguing with people who embrace despotic trends in their own government, or who worship at the altar of Herr Fauci—who is a large-style douchebag. I’d rather just drop the gloves and actually fight. That’s a piece of truth: I’ve never once walked away from a good fistfight, and recall just now a particularly good one at an Air Force bar in Lompoc, California, with my Marine Corps buddy, where we were terrifically outnumbered. To be sure, I haven’t won them all, but I don’t mind that and sometimes it’s just better to throw some blows. It’s also true that I don’t trust anyone who hasn’t been punched in the face recently, if ever. Anyway, I’m 50 now, probably done with bar fighting, and at least part of the problem is I that don’t know well how to be generative in this climate. I’m trying to avoid outright cynicism but that’s a struggle. I find solace in excellently written dramas like HBO’s Succession, and mind-lifting documentaries such as Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World.
And of course I enjoy the occasional quaff of virtually any small batch bourbon, which helps to dull the pointed reality of Kate Brown wielding emergency powers for another six months, and the Oregon legislature’s push for a “permanent mask mandate.” The precise language says “permanent,” but Oregon’s legislature will tell you it isn’t really permanent.
The flat spin continues. In the mud.
I still like to write in diners but Sisters doesn’t really have one anymore. The old one has suffered an unfortunate upgrade into a sports bar, which is okay but it has lost its greasy spoon appeal. The old place had guns on the walls. The new one has signs threatening everyone with culleus if social distancing isn’t observed. There is apparently an invisible barrier where masks can be removed and the virus and its mutations are no longer taken seriously, which is a trend air travel has taken to absurd dimensions. If you haven’t flown anywhere recently, I recommend a trip to the terminal, where dystopian threats from the Department of Justice are piped in against boarding announcements on an endless loop, and where all social distancing ends abruptly inside the cramped aluminum tube on which you travel. It’s nothing short of bizarre, and as a bonus, at least in Miami, you might get to see a full-blown riot at the ticket counter.
It’s surprising that we have any restaurants left in Sisters at all, given the various shutdowns and supply-chain fornications and of course the new phenomenon of people not wanting to work for a living. Not long ago our one fine-dining restaurant suffered a shock when the owner, a female, was froghopped to county jail after beating the crap out of her maître d inside the restaurant. Rumors abound, but I’m told he lost some teeth. Or maybe he didn’t have them to begin with. It’s hard to know.
At least there is snow on the Cascades, but we will need a lot more. Last summer even looking at a tree sideways could cause spontaneous combustion.
These days I’m reduced to taking coffee at a place where the coffee is actually good, but the ambiance feels like a hospital waiting-room. Another reason I don’t love the place is that I frequently see a lunatic woman there who I know to a moral certainty burgled my home during an HOA meeting. That was back when I gave a shit about the HOA, which only exists to collectively pay for snow plowing, but where I found myself continuously fighting off a cabal–incidentally led by a fly-spray magnate–who wanted to raise the fees because “we pay so much more in Palm Desert.” Anyway, the woman I mention joins a long list of elderly female shoplifters and home burglars I am unhappily aware of, and I won’t lie: I was at least somewhat amused when I saw she had put her car into a pine tree last winter. It appeared, from tracks in the snow, that she drove straight into it. And also, at the risk of sounding like Margaret Hamilton, I hate her little dog too.
It occurred to me recently that the entire nation is undergoing the horrors of Cinderella Liberty, which is a thing that Marines and sailors must endure at selected foreign ports. After sloshing around the world’s oceans most everyone aboard looks forward to climbing on a jeepney and racing straight for the forbidden zones. Of course, many hours are wasted on safety briefs, wherein a bespectacled Navy quack warns everyone ad nauseum about the importance of wearing lots of rubbers, which is followed by every officer in the chain of command giving the same speech about hot dogs, apple pie, and a historical rundown on international incidents sparked by Lance Corporals on shore liberty. The result is that, of course, once ashore, hundreds of America’s finest fighting men run straight to the Four Floors of Whores in Singapore, or to the city blocks of Russian whorehouses in Dubai. Navy personnel often skip the delights of town and just start humping away in some of the ship’s voids—it is an under-appreciated fact that many hundreds of female sailors find their deployments cut short by IOPs–the dreaded Indian Ocean Pregnancy. Getting forked in the foc’sile is an actual thing.
At any rate, in places like Australia—before the COVID internment camps—liberty was usually unrestricted, while shadier ports often trigger Cinderella Liberty, meaning everyone but the most senior officers must be back on ship before midnight.
It occurred to me that we are, most of us, now tied-up dockside at a sleazy port. The rat guards are deployed, and a line of cabs is waiting below. And yet here we are, in the hangar deck, enduring yet another interminable safety brief by the same guy who, at the last port, we saw face down in his plate of Suspicious Chicken at a strip joint where the girls stack quarters on the bar with their hoo-hoos. Over his shoulder the city lights are twinkling. You can smell the earth, you can almost touch it, there is a wad of money from the ship’s ATM burning a hole in your pocket, and after so many weeks at sea all you want to do is get a beer, get laid, and sleep in a normal bed, but this jackass won’t stop talking and every tick of the clock sounds like some asshole wailing on the brass gong of doom.