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RULING SPURS RUSH FOR CASH IN BOTH POLITICAL PARTIES

(New York Times Headline, April 4, 2014)

Returned to the US after close to four months away, I arrived to the cacophony of money.  It is, as the phrase goes, bottom-line American.  The All-Mighty Buck.  Follow the money.  Money talks, bullshit walks.  It’s the American way, just ask Justice Scalia, or his StepnFetchit, Justice Thomas.

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Money

Money is a kind of poetry.– Wallace Stevens

Money, the long green,
cash, stash, rhino, jack
or just plain dough.

Chock it up, fork it over,
shell it out. Watch it
burn holes through pockets.

To be made of it! To have it
to burn! Greenbacks, double eagles,
megabucks and Ginnie Maes.

It greases the palm, feathers a nest,
holds heads above water,
makes both ends meet.

Money breeds money.
Gathering interest, compounding daily.
Always in circulation.

Money. You don’t know where it’s been,
but you put it where your mouth is.
And it talks.

                               Dana Gioia

 

Adding insult to injury, following Citizens United, backing their decision with specious arguments asserting it wasn’t in any way a mode of corruption, the Robert’s Supreme Court this past week ruled that Federal caps on many forms of political campaign donations were unconstitutional (McCutcheon v. FEC.)  Just as the prior ruling had it that corporations are people, and hence have the same First Amendment rights as the two footed form.   And so the flood-gates opened, resulting in the NYT headline cited above.  Yep, money is, says the Supreme Court, a mode of “talk” and the First Amendment prohibits any clamps on our mouths by the government.  Let ‘er rip.  Of course the same Court has few compunctions about intervening at other orifices and apparently sees no contradiction therein, and I am sure in other instances the same court would happily rule to shut some mouths.

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Returning was a narrow and selective chance to see the effects of money in the real world.  Arriving in NYC, a ramble through the once hot artistic bohemian realm of Soho revealed an ever more glamorous shopping mall, to serve the new denizens of the area, awash in wealth. Gucci Prada Luis Vuitton as well as more local practitioners of sucking up the money from the very rich.  Nearby areas reflected a similar trajectory making much of Manhattan a play-ground mostly for the very well-off.  Some visits to Brooklyn showed a down-scale version of the same phenomenon:  Green Point, Red Hook, Williamsburg, Gowanus.  There the young hipsters, priced out of swanky Manhattan, have taken over run-down swathes of the city and, as in many other places I know, displacing the locals (poorer, most often of color other than Anglo) and bringing in their “culture.”  Soon enough condo’s sprout, the economic level shifts up a few more notches, and “gentrification” happens.  This is all done under the Mystical Invisible Hand of the Market, so it is, ahem, ideologically free, not racist, etc.  Once again the rumble of cash turns into a tsunami, wiping out all in its (s)way.

 

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945_BOSTON-FIRE_1978From Peter Hutton’s Boston Fire

Moving on from New York, where I got a few harsh reminders of the current economic trends as they apply to the likes of me, I caught a mix of Amtrak and buses on down to Columbus Ohio, a trip which put me in the company of the sorts shoved out of Brooklyn and who can’t afford airplanes.  At one point the bus had to stop as an altercation was going on, and finally the police were called and took the soul away.  He was not Anglo colored.  Another bus jaunt northward brought me back to Cleveland where I had a chance to see another once-industrial city dying as the slosh of massive money shifted to other climes in the name of “Globalization.”   This policy was put into effect at the behest of our larger corporations, with the assurances it would bring jobs and all kinds of good things to America.  Both our permitted political parties, eagerly embraced these policies, singing a siren song of praises for what it would do for the Nation.   It brought instead the ubiquitous Wal-Mart boxes and boarded up small town Main Streets, along with the larger decimation of places like Cleveland, Detroit, Toledo and a long string of other once productive American cities.  The children of old Sam Walton are among the richest people in the world, having sold their Arkansas snake-oil to the country while laying waste to it.  Ironically the country which most “capitalized” on this policy, China, has equally been laid waste with horrendous ecological damage, corruption, and sometime soon an economic crash as rapid and vast as its ascent.

A customer leaves a Wal-Mart store in Rogers

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Other travels have taken me to the quasi-abandoned northwest corner of Missouri, and across Missouri, Iowa and rural Illinois to Chicago.  The seeming story remains the same: small towns sucked dry of their economic ground, family farms taken over by corporate ones, jobs swept away, leaving boarded up towns, a litany of For Sale signs, weathered and hopeless.  Meanwhile, our government, in collusion with our biggest corporations, secretly negotiates the terms of the TPP (TransPacific-Partnership), kissing cousin to NAFTA (of which the long forgotten Presidential candidate, Ross Perot, accurately predicted – to predictable ridicule from the establishment – that the giant sound you would hear would be the jobs being sucked away….).  Obama, the candidate who promised “transparency,” is fully involved in this scam, along with the NSA one.

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James Clapper

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As spring arrives, haltingly in many parts of the country, already the noise of the mid-term elections are upon us, and with it, the massive noise of money.  Money in the form of endless political TV ads, money in the form of bought and paid for “representatives” of the people: Federal, State, local.  Money in the form of long since paid-off Supreme Court “Justices” who bend to the siren song of capital.  The NSA keeps silent watch over us, as an army of co-conspirators, such as Mr Clapper, pull the levers, violating “the law” everyday, and suffering no response.  Just as did our previous President and his entourage.  We live in a criminalized Nation, with the great criminals residing, naturally, at the very top of the pyramid of power.

It is spring time in Tornado Alley.

 

 

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As I write, October 16th, 2013, the grand Kabuki drama of the nation rises to one of its cyclical peaks as the structural weaknesses of our Constitution come into synchronicity. In the next day or two this media orchestrated minuet will play out,  with a temporary collapse of the Tea-Party Republican extremist’s efforts to block so-called Obamacare, claiming the real concern is the Federal deficit, by threatening to defund the government, though most of the same people blithely upped the deficit, slashed taxes, and started two fraudulent wars without a care during the reign of George W. Bush – as VP Cheney famously said way back then, “Deficits don’t matter.”  But today, with a black man in the White House, they matter, if only as a rhetorical weapon-of-the-moment.  Or, instead, this dance may see the little hard-core of Tea Party Representatives willing and able to risk a global financial melt-down as the rigged “reserve currency” of the post-World War II era runs aground on the fractured politics of the nation which prints those famous old Greenbacks, as the “exceptional” USA defaults on its debts.  This in turn will accelerate the process where the great sloshing of globalized, unaccountable wealth is shifting its currency into what those with it imagine to be safer forms than silly old abstractions, like money.  Instead they buy “art” or real estate in places like London, New York, Abu Dubai, and other enclaves of the increasingly “only rich welcome” sanctuaries.

[Note: barring some last minute glitch, it appears the Republicans have blinked, and our grand Kabuki drama will carry on, with another riveting crisis being revved up off-stage at this very moment.]

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rothko1_2214608aMark Rothko painting, sold for $86,882,500koons01_Jeff Koons work sold for $33,682,500

A Rothko painting is composed of a thin sheet of canvas, and some thin layers of paint, and a wooden frame.  Materially it is both easily degraded (the red tones in this work are especially vulnerable to fading), or destroyed.  Materially it is worth perhaps $100.   Clearly what is being bought is something else – either the experience of looking at it, or, the assumption that its investment value in terms of money will increase faster, say, than the value of stocks, or interest from loaning the money.   While the Koons work is materially more substantial, the money to purchase it was animated by the same assumption: that the “art” aspect would multiply its “value” more rapidly than other investments.  In both cases, the reality is that, exactly as is the case with “money,” what is being assumed is that a social agreement that something “abstract” has material value.  Money, whether “represented” with things like gold or silver (chosen long ago because they do not readily oxidize and change their atomic structure), or paper, is in effect a social contract, one which says X currency is worth X material something.  When I was young a cup of (bad in the USA) coffee cost 5 cents.  Today in most cafes a cup of perhaps good coffee would run $3 or so. You can do the math on the inflation and figure out that the social contract regarding the numbers shifted terms rather drastically in my life-time.   In a similar way the social contract in America – between Americans – has also drastically changed.

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Two years ago Occupy Wall Street materialized, and shifted our political dialog sharply:  the phrases “we are the 99%” and its corollary, “the 1%” emerged from decades of suffocation with barbs about “class war.”  OWS was initially ignored by the press, and then briefly given coverage as it spawned across the country.  At the same moment the NSA, CIA and FBI, in a Federally coordinated effort, collaborated with local police departments to heavily clamp down and as best they could, destroy this movement.  But the cat had been let out of the bag and a broad social awareness of the ever increasing disparities regarding the grossly tilted distribution of wealth, topics which are now almost everyday conversation, and around which our thoroughly corrupted politicians must dance, had been birthed.  Hence today’s minuet, which, as I write, appears headed towards an absurd “settlement” of kicking the can down the road 4 months.  And behind the curtains, cynic that I am, I can see the next act in this American theater of the Absurd:  in the coming months, as the Congress sits down to “seriously” decide on the Nation’s budget for the coming years, decade, whatever they say, in a signal of his “flexibility” President Obama will agree to cutting Social Security costs, cutting Medicare and Medicaid costs, and doubtless many other things.  However our sacrosanct military, and its burgeoning adjunct of the vast security state which has blossomed since 9/11, will not be touched.  And perhaps, as a signal of its reasonableness the counter-party will admit to some tiny tax here or there, though preferably it would be along the line of a VAT, “so we can all share the burden.”  Bets?

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But, just in case the dog and pony show in the District of Columbia doesn’t provide enough sleight-of-hand to duly befuddle the citizenry, we can always count on mass media circus to do the job.

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As this scenario has essentially been going on since we started, at the very outset anointing ourselves as “exceptional” and telling whatever untruths were necessary to support our illusion, beginning with our blatant theft of an entire continent from its inhabitants under the ironclad law that “might makes right” – after all, what were “they” doing with all this except wasting its values?  And on through a founding document which asserted that “all me are created equal” which was written by wealthy men who owned slaves, and whose document actually only considered white male landowners as “men” and on through the rest of our sordid mountain of self-delusions, which we must confront every day, and which confound our politics and society as they historically have.  To untangle this mess of contradictions is certainly more than our institutions can cope with, which as the stresses of these days indicate, will lead to a breaking up of our Union, as the diverse interests and beliefs of our populace decide myth is not a good place in which to actually live.

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Last year, around this time, I received word that a long ago friend of mine, with whom I had sporadic communications in the previous decades, had died.  She was Shulamith Firestone, whom I met way back in 1964, in Chicago.  It was after I’d returned from bumming around Europe and then Mexico for around a year and a half, and had made some of my first films.   We met because she was the girlfriend of my friend Charles (Chick), from my days at the Institute of Design, (IIT).  I went to Mexico to be in a film for him – which if I recall he ended up cutting me out completely though I was, comically, his lead character!  On my return to Chicago in summer of 1964 we shared a flat at the south end of the Loop, immediately beside the “L.”  The trains went by, loudly, like clockwork, right out the window.  Through this I got to know, fall in love with Laya, (and the rest), Shulie’s younger sister.  I remained in touch with her through all these years, as, fitfully, I did with Shulamith, who went on to become a kind of shooting star of the then birthing feminist movement.  She was deeply involved, as the following material will show.  I saw her occasionally after she moved to New York, and once took a little trip with her from there to Boston, I think in the early 70’s – the reasons for which are lost in the fog of my memory.   I saw her a handful of times since, and corresponded with her a little.   The last email, perhaps less than a decade ago, said something to the effect that she – the Shulamith I had known – no longer existed, deleted by the meds and institutionalization she’d been through.

While I couldn’t say I’d been present enough to actually observe, I did see enough, and my experiences in the radical left of the time (one of the founders of the left group Newsreel; deeply involved in the Chicago convention, and many other things) showed me in principle how such things seem to work, and to surmise that Shulamith, way out front in what at the time was a social heresy, got chewed to pieces by the mass media, and then by her erstwhile radical sisters.   Such is the way of politics, of whatever tilt.  As noted in the following, she withdrew in consequence, though perhaps it did not withdraw from her.

With Laya’s OK, I post the following, as I think it provides a glimpse into the tenor of those times, and perhaps in turn a small bit of history for those who were not present then, and for some who were, but were not actively involved inside, a clearer picture of what happened in those years.

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Perhaps it is a function of time, age, experience, and of course a close personal connection – but as I read this my eyes tear.  I am thrown back upon my whole life’s trajectory, back to those fervid days of youth, one in this instance arbitrarily set in the turmoil of the 60’s.  For those who preceded me it might have been the trauma of the Great Depression of the 30’s, or of World War Two which left its stamp.  For those of the current younger generation it might be the shock of 9/11 (and perhaps realizing that their own government had a hand in it).

As I watch the age spots blossom across my skull and skin, and see the slackening muscle tissue of my body, and am proffered the clear message that death is next – be it tomorrow or 20 years – it cannot help but provoke reflection.  Talking with my peers these days, often we concur that it – life, this process we go through – all means nothing, that whatever success (or failure) we have experienced, at bottom, it means nothing.  It is a process, which goes nowhere, and finally is empty of any meaning.  Such is the wisdom with which a long and fully lived life concludes.  The day of Shulamith’s death isn’t really known – her body was found some days after she had died, perhaps of a heart attack, perhaps of starvation.   As in the old black spiritual, you must cross that river by yourself.   By necessity, Shulamith did, though in a real sense tragically, she lived much of her life in the isolation of herself.

I do not in any way believe in an after-life, or the other consolations we invent for ourselves to wash away the reality of death, or the termination of ourselves, and the final meaninglessness of our lives.   I wish I had had the opportunity in life to give Shulamith what she needed and deserved, a kind of comfort which life refused her.

[For an excellent article on Shulamith, by Susan Faludi, see this.]

_L.Ehrlich2010_2678xLaya Firestone Seghi,  and myself, shooting 1967’s LEAH (foto Linn Ehrlich)

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Winter has slipped by, leaving the Rocky Mountains and Sierra’s bereft of the “normal” snow-pack, and in turn predicting a grim summer of drought, fires, smoke-choked skies, and rationing of water down-stream in Arizona, California and throughout the West.  To the east, rain and snow has been more than usual, hinting perhaps at floods.  In the same moment our political dialog remains in stasis, the special interests of oil buying the airwaves to insist the evidence is not in, never mind the flooding of lower Manhattan and extensive coastal damage in the east caused by Hurricane Sandy some months ago – global warming is a myth, and it’s full steam ahead on the Keystone Canadian tar sands XL pipeline, despite the recurrent leaks and ruptures in the pipeline infrastructures around the globe.  Recall  Deepwater Horizon, BP’s little incident on the gulf?   Business as usual in the oil biz.

 

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The Presidential election over, and the rather convincing evidence of a culturally “liberal” national consensus being revealed, our Republicans are falling over themselves cozying up to same-sex marriage and other right-wing taboos, just as they fell all over themselves embracing evangelicals and tea-partiers not so long ago.  In the wake of the shootings in Newtown, Ct., even the matter of some kind of gun control has become speakable in Republican language, though the NRA is doing its best to enforce its control.  And yet we seem intractably frozen in our large communal conversation, unable to actually even speak, much less act in the face of piles of problems, accumulating as time goes by.  Whether with the accelerating collapse of the “middle class” or the utter ignoring of the now 30% of the population who are “poor,” or the ever increasing concentration of wealth at the very top of our fiscal pyramid, or with the very real consequences which will visit us from global warming – water crises, evacuations of major urban concentrations, diminishing food supplies for an expanding populace – our inability to even begin a conversation will write our epitaph.  Cruising for a bruising.

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Ten years ago, coaxed by a massive global propaganda barrage orchestrated by the US government, and for the most part supported fully by our corporate owned and controlled mass media, the United States went to war in Iraq.  It did so under false pretenses, on the basis of willfully fraudulent “intelligence,” prompted by the attack of 9/11/2001, the story of which itself is highly suspect.  I refer the reader to the document of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), which was signed by many figures of the Bush administration, including Richard Cheney, and which called, publicly, for an event like 9/11 to jolt the American public into actions like the war on Iraq and Afghanistan.  The initiation of the way was presented as grand spectacle, and was breathlessly reported by the “embedded” media.

Ten years later, having lost this war, and the war in Afghanistan, and having collapsed its own economy in process, America scarcely whispers a word about the catastrophic actions it took.  Though our military – demonstrating its corruption and incompetence despite its massive expansion and absurd costs – carries on with the top brass shifting from their executive roles as failures, directly into the lucrative corporate offices of the military-industrial complex.  When, if ever, they are punished for matters, it has to do with sexual peccadilloes and public relations scandals, and not with their incompetence as military commanders and strategists.  Exactly as are the golden-parachuted managers of failed American corporate enterprises, or the criminal officers of TBTF banks and Wall Street trading companies.  The corruption runs throughout America’s economic, political, military and cultural systems.

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George Bush, cod-piece strutting “pilot” of 2003, is 2013’s non-person, disappeared by our political mandarins and the media which is their servant, just as is the war with which he is associated.  The patriotic admonishment for the American public which he delivered in the wake of 9/11, “Just keep shopping,” now falls flat on the ears of a public which has largely been stripped of its income and wealth by the events of the last decade – not merely the negative effects of the war, but of the “neo-liberal” economic policies which have gutted America’s economy in the interests of corporate profits for the benefit of the 1%.

So as we enter this grim anniversary, and the cocky presumptions of PNAC’s neo-con fevered dream of American dominance has shriveled, it is perhaps proper that rather than silence, voices of those most deeply effected speak.   John Gianvito, who initiated and organized the making of a film, Far From Afghanistan, sent me today a letter he saw on Truthdig (one of the sad small minority media outlets which dot the internet in an attempt to counter the corporate mass media which dominates the world’s “information” system).  I thought it a good way to mark this dubious anniversary of America’s lunge into an immoral, dishonest and in the long run, utterly disastrous and failed warring.

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A Message to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney From a Dying Veteran

18 March 2013

To: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney
From: Tomas Young

I write this letter on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War on behalf of my fellow Iraq War veterans. I write this letter on behalf of the 4,488 soldiers and Marines who died in Iraq. I write this letter on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of veterans who have been wounded and on behalf of those whose wounds, physical and psychological, have destroyed their lives. I am one of those gravely wounded. I was paralyzed in an insurgent ambush in 2004 in Sadr City. My life is coming to an end. I am living under hospice care.

I write this letter on behalf of husbands and wives who have lost spouses, on behalf of children who have lost a parent, on behalf of the fathers and mothers who have lost sons and daughters and on behalf of those who care for the many thousands of my fellow veterans who have brain injuries. I write this letter on behalf of those veterans whose trauma and self-revulsion for what they have witnessed, endured and done in Iraq have led to suicide and on behalf of the active-duty soldiers and Marines who commit, on average, a suicide a day. I write this letter on behalf of the some 1 million Iraqi dead and on behalf of the countless Iraqi wounded. I write this letter on behalf of us all-the human detritus your war has left behind, those who will spend their lives in unending pain and grief.

 I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. I write not because I think you grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power. I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, know fully who you are and what you have done. You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans-my fellow veterans-whose future you stole.

Your positions of authority, your millions of dollars of personal wealth, your public relations consultants, your privilege and your power cannot mask the hollowness of your character. You sent us to fight and die in Iraq after you, Mr. Cheney, dodged the draft in Vietnam, and you, Mr. Bush, went AWOL from your National Guard unit. Your cowardice and selfishness were established decades ago. You were not willing to risk yourselves for our nation but you sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women to be sacrificed in a senseless war with no more thought than it takes to put out the garbage.

I joined the Army two days after the 9/11 attacks. I joined the Army because our country had been attacked. I wanted to strike back at those who had killed some 3,000 of my fellow citizens. I did not join the Army to go to Iraq, a country that had no part in the September 2001 attacks and did not pose a threat to its neighbors, much less to the United States. I did not join the Army to “liberate” Iraqis or to shut down mythical weapons-of-mass-destruction facilities or to implant what you cynically called “democracy” in Baghdad and the Middle East. I did not join the Army to rebuild Iraq, which at the time you told us could be paid for by Iraq’s oil revenues. Instead, this war has cost the United States over $3 trillion. I especially did not join the Army to carry out pre-emptive war. Pre-emptive war is illegal under international law. And as a soldier in Iraq I was, I now know, abetting your idiocy and your crimes. The Iraq War is the largest strategic blunder in U.S. history. It obliterated the balance of power in the Middle East. It installed a corrupt and brutal pro-Iranian government in Baghdad, one cemented in power through the use of torture, death squads and terror. And it has left Iran as the dominant force in the region. On every level-moral, strategic, military and economic-Iraq was a failure. And it was you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, who started this war. It is you who should pay the consequences.

I would not be writing this letter if I had been wounded fighting in Afghanistan against those forces that carried out the attacks of 9/11. Had I been wounded there I would still be miserable because of my physical deterioration and imminent death, but I would at least have the comfort of knowing that my injuries were a consequence of my own decision to defend the country I love. I would not have to lie in my bed, my body filled with painkillers, my life ebbing away, and deal with the fact that hundreds of thousands of human beings, including children, including myself, were sacrificed by you for little more than the greed of oil companies, for your alliance with the oil sheiks in Saudi Arabia, and your insane visions of empire.

I have, like many other disabled veterans, suffered from the inadequate and often inept care provided by the Veterans Administration. I have, like many other disabled veterans, come to realize that our mental and physical wounds are of no interest to you, perhaps of no interest to any politician. We were used. We were betrayed. And we have been abandoned. You, Mr. Bush, make much pretense of being a Christian. But isn’t lying a sin? Isn’t murder a sin? Aren’t theft and selfish ambition sins? I am not a Christian. But I believe in the Christian ideal. I believe that what you do to the least of your brothers you finally do to yourself, to your own soul.

My day of reckoning is upon me. Yours will come. I hope you will be put on trial. But mostly I hope, for your sakes, that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live. I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness.

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By the laws of the government which they controlled and directed, George Bush and his entire entourage, committed grievous crimes, crimes for which they have not and will not be prosecuted.  They will not be prosecuted, nor convicted, nor punished, because though the names have changed, that government is run and controlled by the same parties who brought us these catastrophes, and like our self-serving CEOs, who gut their corporations for personal profit, within the now fully corrupted system of USA.inc., one is rewarded for failure, however disastrous it is to the country, so long as it serves the 1%.

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sol·stice  (slsts, sl-, sôl-)

n.

1. Either of two times of the year when the sun is at its greatest distance from the celestial equator. The summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere occurs about June 21, when the sun is in the zenith at the tropic of Cancer; the winter solstice occurs about December 21, when the sun is over the tropic of Capricorn. The summer solstice is the longest day of the year and the winter solstice is the shortest.

2. A highest point or culmination.

[Middle English, from Old French, from Latin slstitium : sl, sun; see swel- in Indo-European roots + -stitium, a stoppage; see st- in Indo-European roots.]

Encroaching on 70 circumnavigations of our nearest star, it is “natural” that life imposes certain modes of thinking, and feeling, for better and worse. The passing of years brings an accumulation of one’s own history, the threads which make up a life – events, relationships, joys, disappointments, tragedies. All the hum drum stuff of our daily lives is added up, measured out in a bloom of liver spots, shrinking flesh and wrinkling skin, aching joints and diminishing mobility. We see it in our friends and family, and, perhaps reluctantly, in ourselves. In a constant shift of perspective, life alters its terms within us. The gaping length of single spin around the sun, which in youth seemed endless and found one eagerly looking forward to imagined rewards of the coming year, now seems all too brief. Contemplations of “the next” are limned with a silent “if.” It all makes a perfect sense, and philosophers and poets have long since mined the realm to seeming exhaustion. One would think we collectively all understood.

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 roman man crpdRoman bust

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On some levels the human experience is collective, and we are able to store up the knowledge of our shared experiences in mechanical and intellectual ways, so that this experience is drastically changed through time.   150 years ago messages in the advanced world were sent by Morse code, and before that carried in letters by horseback or ship, while today vast volumes of digitalized information are sent in tsunami proportions at the speed of light. Likewise myriad advances in medical technology have turned once-fatal matters into mere annoyances. Thanks to these shared and cumulative realities, our lives are radically different (at least those in the so-called advanced countries, or those who are “rich”). And yet, as the old hymn goes, “you gotta cross that river for yourself.”  As that crossing approaches many markers point the way: friends and family begin to die, your own body shape-shifts, its asymmetries becoming more pronounced, and in little or large descending plateaus, your physical functions deteriorate.    And, at least to my observations, the kernel of your “self” solidifies.   Most of the people I know – and I presume it applies as well to myself – are essentially the same, psychologically, as they were 40 years ago:  those given to anger remain angry, those closed off from wider experiences are more closed off; those eager to learn and experiment continue to do so.  This observation inclines me to accept the Greek sense of Fate – that we are born and can do only what that original gift allows (these days it would be measured in genetic components, slivers of DNA intertwined such that one is a composite of mother and father).   I can point to the tooth of mine which is exactly as my father’s was, or the drooping eyelid that replicates that of my mother – and on down the genetic gifts or curses of each strain of my own DNA.  I see the same in my acquaintances.   Whether, in turn, one becomes more forgiving of the quirks of those friends, or whether one crosses them out of one’s life, doubtless marks one’s own in-stamped nature.

.boxer compositeGreco-Roman bronze sculpture of pugilist

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In the past few years, in my own life, death has visited directly within my family, and more generally among acquaintances and friends.  Last December my father died, aged 98.  It caused scarcely a quiver in me, thanks to a near life-long alienation from him.   At a very young age – perhaps 9 or 10, I’d already checked him out of my life as best my circumstances permitted.  At the time I didn’t really seem to know why, though much much later I was told that he’d whipped me with some regularity – which he owned up to in a letter I demanded he write after my mother’s death, some 27 years ago.  That, along with almost all memories of my childhood were totally expunged from my mind, and even with that knowledge I cannot remember it at all today.  And yet, this year, I did imagine and shoot a new film, Coming to Terms, which in its manner is about a father dying and so, perhaps, in the manner of art, I absorbed this event and creatively transmuted it.

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FATHER IN HAWAII 97 YRS OLDcrpHarry Frederick Jost at 98, 2011Wilhelm Leibl

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Sensed far more closely and personally, in the last years, were other deaths which though in some senses far more distant, seemed to have touched me inwardly far more deeply.   Though it is not as if death had not visited before to leave its mark.  While in prison, in 1966, I received, sent by a friend, a black framed newspaper notice announcing the death of a young woman, Kathy Handler.  She’d been briefly a lover before I went in.  It was said she committed suicide, though other rumors had her having taken acid and going for a misguided swim in a cold Lake Michigan.  (And recently I learned that the friend who had sent the notice, who had been in an early film of mine, had died some time ago –  Laura Volkerding, by name.) Whatever the truth, my response – under the sway of reading a lot of Kierkegaard, Heidegger and other philosophers in my “free time” in prison, and having felt vaguely responsible – was to write a text which on leaving prison a year later became the film Traps, my first foray into sound.   The film is a rather devastating one, certainly it is weighted with deaths – not only that of Kathy, but in the tone of the times: those of the Vietnam war, the penumbra of violence which encompassed the era, and led shortly afterward to the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy and more locally, Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, murdered by the Chicago police.

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TRAPS COLLAGETraps, frame grabsTRAPS17KierkegaardTRAPS19HeideggerTRAPS20JPEDCesare Pavese, notebooks

Robert F Kennedy lies in a pool of blood after being shot in 1968Robert Kennedy, Los Angeles, 1968

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In 1978, another death left a mark, again with a sense of guilt.  The former partner of a close friend of mine had moved from Chicago to Los Angeles, where we shared an apartment.  She later moved to San Francisco, and in 1978 I had a brief pass through The City for a screening.  I had meant to contact her and see if she would come to the screening – she was in the film world –  which I thought she might like, and also to see her.  In the rush of life I had forgotten to call her, and did my screening, and the next day left.  As I sat down in the plane, and opened the San Francisco Chronicle and leafed through it, my eye caught an item which was titled something like “Masseuse hit in crosswalk” or something like that.  In glancing the name caught my eye – it was my friend.  The time was the same period when she would have been coming to, or at, my screening.  She was dead. For years I have carried with me a consciousness that in some strange, indirect, irrational manner I may have caused her death simply by having forgotten to contact her.

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brendaBrenda Bierbrodt, 1945 – 1987, picture from HS yearbook_L.Ehrlich2010_2674Myself and Brenda, 1968  –  Photo © Linn Ehrlich

Some time later, in 1983, aged 70, my mother died of pancreatic cancer.  My father, who in my view had, in his manner, coerced her into participating in his post-Army evangelical fundamentalism, had tried “laying on of hands” and “talking in tongues” and belatedly had taken her to the military hospital in Niceville, Florida, where “exploratory surgery” revealed a terminal cancer.   In a phone call to me in San Francisco he said she had “a year of quality living” and they would go on a world cruise.  Then he put her on the phone, and I immediately heard the rattle of death in her voice and set off in my VW van, driving straight through as fast as I could, and arriving two days late.  So much for a year of quality living.  She was dead and shortly after my arrival, after a shower and shave, I went to her funeral services with the fundamentalists singing her praises, and a teenaged proslyetizer coming up trying for a conversion in this presumed moment of vulnerability.  I politely suggested he fuck off.  The rattle of death had become something familiar during my stint in 1978 caring for Nick Ray in New York, where I’d been asked to help him make a final film, but was cast instead as nurse-caretaker and cigarette run-boy.   He was riddled with cancer, and the toilet was often red with the blood he coughed up.

The eighties was the decade of the AIDS epidemic, and being in the arts world, gays were a given.  Many, including some of my friends, died.

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790px-Schadow_Grabmal_Alexander_2Grave marker, illegitimate son of Kaiser Friederick Wilhelms II, Berlin

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In 1987, I think it was, I met Jon A. English, in process of looking for someone to write some music for my film Bell Diamond.  He did that film, a very modest bit of composing, as the film needed, and along the way we became friends, and as time passed, he did the music for a number of my other films – Plain Talk & Common Sense, Rembrandt Laughing (in which he also played a lead role), All the Vermeers in New York, Frameup, and Uno a te, uno a me, e uno a Raffaele.   He was wonderful to collaborate with, and a wonderful person – and it didn’t hurt at all that he was a great musician and composer.  And we became very good friends.  Sadly, as the years passed by, his health slid down, step at a time, the consequence of an early diagnosis for Hodgkins disease decades before.  He was “treated” then, in the 70’s, at a very early stage of the “cure” for this, and way over-blasted with radiation.   In turn the areas that had been hit, were drastically aged, and his neck, esophagus and the whole upper area of his torso deteriorated as time passed, and periodically he’d be hospitalized, dropping to a lower plateau each time.   Asking him to work with me became a balancing act of gauging if it would be too much for him, versus knowing that his creative soul liked nothing more than to do music.  He died in 1996, at the age of 54, while I was living in Italy.  There were some people of my acquaintance whom I would have readily shifted places with him.

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english crpdJon A. English, 1942-1997

A year and a half ago, a long ago girlfriend from 1964, Laya (Firestone) Seghi, – with whom I have stayed in touch since, and very infrequently seen – wrote me a lovely letter describing a trip she’d taken with her husband, Tom, to see and meet family in Israel, where her mother lives, and in the mountains of northern Italy, near Venice, from where his family originally emigrated.   It had been a wonderful journey, and her description, elegant and simple, had a kind of unselfconscious literary quality which made the story she told all the more wonderful.  Reading it simply made me feel good – for me, and for them.   I recall being genuinely joyful on reading it.  Not long afterward I wrote expressing my happiness about their trip and lives, but also including word that in my own life things had taken a turn and my wife Marcella had decided she should go on her own way.  It wasn’t what I wanted, but at the same time I thought Marcella should do what she felt was best for her, and if severing our paths was it, then it was OK with me.  She was half my age, and I could understand only too well.   A few weeks later I received another letter, which as the previous one, had a literary simplicity and directness which marked it, but told a very different story, though written with the same disarming clarity.

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_L.Ehrlich2010_2678x

_L.Ehrlich2010_2679xLaya, in film Leah, 1967, fotos © Linn Ehrlich

On returning home to Miami, following their trip, a nephew of Tom’s was getting married in Chicago, and they went north for the occasion.  There, for the first time, he showed her the home he’d grown up in, in the Italian-American Bridgeport neighborhood – which happened to be adjacent to where I’d gone to college at IIT, and where I had lived a year and a half.  His home was now lived in by Mexicans, who welcomed them in, happy to know a little of the history of the house.  And they visited his brother’s grave in a nearby cemetery.   That evening at the wedding party, they danced, and following on the heels of their joyous journey to Israel and Italy, and their 40 years together, she thought, as she wrote, “I am truly happy.”   And in the same moment her husband had a heart attack and died, literally, in her arms.  Needless to say, she’s had a difficult time since – having to put into hard practice the things she does as a living as a psychological counselor.

And then, as if that were not enough, this past August, her sister, a long-ago rather famous early radical feminist, Shulamith Firestone (The Dialectic of Sex), whose own life had taken a hard turn, and who was a friend of mine back in 1964 – the reason I met Laya was her sister was my flat-mate’s girlfriend at the time – died in New York City, apparently of a heart attack.  Laya, being close (as much that Shulamith allowed in her later years) to her sister, and being the family in the USA, became the person to deal with the aftermath, which included a memorial service attended by many feminists of Shulamith’s period, and those after.  [I will in a later posting publish the comments made at the memorial, as I think it is instructive, in many ways, of the tenor of those times.]

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Shulamith FirestoneShulamith Firestone, 1945-2012

When I returned to the US this past March, it was in some parts consciously to visit friends and family, in a kind of “last hurrah” –  to see, perhaps for a last time, those people still living, who were my friends in life.  I’ve seen a few already and hope to see them again – Linn and Marilyn and Peter in Chicago, Bruce in Minneapolis, Marshall in Butte, Terri in Livingston, Swain and Kristi in Missoula, and just today, Ron and Mary Lou here in Portland.  And as I anticipate traveling a lot in the US in the coming year, I expect and hope to see them all again.  We – all more or less in the same time-wise peer bracket – are aware, whether said or unsaid, that any visit could be the last.  As time brings its curtain over us, I think for those of us for whom the Fates accorded us the space, we’ve become closer, more forgiving and understanding of each other.  And in a manner not accounted for in the casual “love you”-speak which affects us casually, we have learned, in a very real sense, where love animates our relations, and, however obscure and difficult to pin down in a clinical sense, how much we have meant to one another.

As a person habitually transient, living in places scattered across the globe, for periods of a year here, 3 or 5 there, I have very consciously kept in touch with those people in my life who in that ineffable manner which over the years shows itself, left a deep implant.  I know well enough that probably, in most cases, had I not kept the lines open, dropped by this decade or that, that these thin threads would have been lost.  Such is the life which I chose or was given.

And, as life is capricious, and neither announces its beginning or end to us, to all those whose lives have crossed mine, in ways deep, however inarticulately we were able to express it, should my life end tomorrow, or yours, here’s thanks for having known and shared our brief time on this planet we are so busy violating.  I am a hard-core atheist and we won’t be meeting anywhere “else” some other time, so it is best to say it while here.  Love to you each, and I am glad our paths crossed on this brief journey.

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MoonPhases

Kurt, la famiglia Rebosio, Laya, Bill, Errol, Linn, Peter, Dennis, Marilyn, Susannah, Ron and Mary Lou, Elayne and Erinn, Barbara, Swain,  Robina, Bob, Roger, Tom, Marshall, Roxanne, Alicia and Morrie, Rick and Julie, Martin, Claudia, Alenka, Jon, Dan, Terri, Hal, Jolly and Bob, Michael, Jane, Steve, Kate, Lynda, Eugenia, Edoardo, Anna, Erling, Nancy and Howard, Hilary and Stuart, Clara, and Brad and Miki and children, and Joel, Rui, Jean, Steve and Todd, Jane and Mark, Marcella, and many others known briefly in passing or lost to memory.  And then there are a few people I suppose I’d prefer not to have met, left out knowingly.      

sun-3

In 3.5 billion years, our Sun will have boiled away all the water on earth, some billions of years after life became impossible on this planet. In 6 billion years it will become a red giant, and then collapse.  8 billion years from now it will be “dead,” an Earth sized diamond with the mass of a star. This is a white dwarf, and it will still be hot enough to shine with thermal radiation. But it will no longer generate solar fusion, and so it will slowly cool down until it becomes the same temperature as the rest of the Universe; just a few degrees above absolute zero. This will take about a trillion years to happen.  The Sun’s death will be complete.

            hound 1 

[Resuming Eli Elliott’s tale of riding the Hound]

DETROIT to DENVER (and onto BOISE)

(1Day, 7Hours, 45Minutes)  + (18 Hours, 45 minutes)

 hound2

PART 1 : “TATTERED”

SOMEWHERE BETWEEN ANN ARBOR and Jackson, Michigan, we picked up a guy with an old green army style duffle bag which had a million little trinkets, or “souvenirs” as he later called them, sewn onto the bag. One trinket I took note of was a small toy bus resembling that of a Greyhound bus, only the inside was gutted, or had slowly fallen apart, and only the silver shell remained.

I noticed how the guy, around mid 50’s or so, how his face resembled his self designed duffle bag, as his face was covered with tattoos. Just like the trinkets, the tats themselves were old and faded. Since  his skin was black, you may not see the dull green ink upon first glance. But look a second time and your gaze becomes locked in; the intensity strong.

On board the Greyhound the guy sat in the very back. A younger guy sitting across from him took a glance at the busyness of his bag, the inked up face, and right away said to him,

“So… you just living life, eh?”

Tattered oddly responded with, “Uh no I dropped out of college, joined the circus, then the carnival….” His voice trailed off in mumbles…

The young guy then made a drug reference assumption, saying,

“So you going to see the Wizard?” Which meant was he taking a trip to get some dope of some sort to get high on for a stretch.

Tattered responded, “No, I’m going to Texas.”

Tattered would spend much of the ride gazing out the window, occasionally talking to himself. At one point during our trip, the younger guys in the back included Tattered in a card game of Gin Rummy, which I thought was nice. Tattered seemed to hold his own, win a hand or two, but eventually got bored and said “I’m out.”

At our next bus layover I would speak briefly with Tattered, admiring his bag and all the knicks and knacks attached.  I asked him if he was an artist. He modestly responded, shyly, a bit soft spoken sweet even, “Not really…”

He told me that he just sewed a lot and all of the little trinkets were souvenirs of some sort. I pieced together that the decorated bag probably used to be his carney bag. I thought about how that bag must’ve seen some serious seedy  mileage, having been around the bizarre underbelly of the American Carnival racket.  About 20 hours later I would meet another Carney worker and his girlfriend aboard the Hound who just finished up the season working the southwest circuit. He would sum up the carnival scene to me with the following:

“You know the difference between the circus and the carnival? In the circus they keep the animals in the cages.” (Meaning that in the carnival circuit, the workers were the animals).

I think Tattered liked that I had thought he was an artist, and the way he responded hinted to me that perhaps no one had ever asked him that before; all the frowns and frustrations and put-off’ness I observed on peoples faces as they reacted to the presence of Tattered – bus drivers, passengers in line, and riders aboard — the souvenirs and symbolism’s permanently sewn all over his bag, and all over his face – it all spoke volumes on the difficulties faced now having to transverse through mainstream America, aboard a Greyhound, no longer protected by the  bubble of the traveling Carnival life. Retired now, responding to the seasons, going South for the winter, forced to carry his past with him, the only bag he owns, the only tattered up face he can wear…

hound3Woodmen of the World Building, downtown Omaha, Nebraska

PART 2:  THE ORGANIZER

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In Benton Harbor Michigan we picked up an outspoken guy, “The Organizer,” who hadn’t been back home to Benton for over 10 years, “been gone ever since I got out of ‘the P’.”  The P as in Penitentiary. I’ve noticed a common tactic used upon entering and establishing yourself aboard The Hound, is that you immediately make reference to jail time spent. The thinking is that a sort of instant respect towards the other hoodlums and back of bus no gooders whom one tries to impress will occur.

At 29, The Organizer was a contradiction in both sight and sound. He had dark corn rolled/braided hair, contrasting his pale white skin.  The dialect out of The Org’s mouth was as street black as street black can get. I frequently turned around wondering if the words I was hearing were really coming from a white guys mouth. Others also took double takes; his put on slang was so thick and admittedly very smooth.

The Org talked about how his last girlfriend was half black and half Mexican, “which is jus about as close to a white woman intimacy wise as I’ve ever gotten”, he boasted. He talked about how he grew up in the Benton Harbor “slums”, and now lives in Texas, occasionally going to New Orleans for work.

“My brutha in New Orleans who was called MONEY CLIP just got killed not long ago.”

The Organizer dominated back of the bus conversation. He seemed to now be trying to involve himself into politics. He seemed to want to be a “community organizer” of some sort like Obama once was. Perhaps there were presidential aspirations as well.

He spoke in vagueness and generalities which caused a few back of the bussers to challenge his stories at times. While Obama had already won the election a week prior, The Org claimed that Romney could still become the president as all the votes haven’t really been counted, referencing the electoral college system as well.

“I just attended a Democratic party meeting last night.  Romney could be our next president.”

Another bus passenger, “Bro, I’m pretty sure Obama won the election and Obama is the president.”

“Well like I said, I just got back from a Democratic party meeting last night and we won’t know until November 17th.”

After being challenged a bit too much he came up a few seats to where me and a short black man from Memphis named Ernest had been conversing.

“I’M AN ORGANIZER”, he declared to me and Ernest. He told us how he was concerned with the youth and schools not paying enough attention to the kids, and how he wanted to organize some accountability and steer schools in a better direction.

A mysterious text suddenly came in to The Organizer, from someone who said they were being “threatened by a bunch of brutha’s.”  In reaction to the text, The Organizer turned to me and said:

“Well now, I may as well just curl up into a ball. What’s he expect me to do for him – he aint give me no information whatsoever about this situation. C’mon, I can’t do nothing with no information – I may as well just curl right up into a ball…”

He told me the text came from a pilot in South Carolina.

I couldn’t figure out The Organizers angle. It was as if he was a call center for distressed brutha’s needing advice on how to deal with, or organize, situations which arise on “the streets”. Can’t call the cops? Can’t get your family involved? Well then, drop a text message to… The Organizer.

In Chicago, I had a couple hour layover and hoped for more mad conversing with The Org, but his Texas bound Hound was already lining up to board. Off he went…

hound5

hound6Car in Denver, bullet hole, Bradley Manning.

 

ON BOARD the Denver bound Hound were a couple of “young 20 sumthing guys,” who mainly talked about various kinds of drug use, losing drivers licenses, and fantasies of blowing marijuana smoke into the face of Colorado cops as the new law to legalize the green had just been passed in both Colorado and Washington.

One of the guys was trying to make it to his sisters in San Diego and had gotten his 92 dollar Denver Greyhound bus ticket from a waitress at a truck stop the previous night whom he had just met while trying to find something to eat for under 4 dollars on the menu.

“Wow, not many people like that in the world,” commented the other young guy regarding the generosity of the waitress.

Arriving in Denver, I stayed with my friend Jonathon. The night I arrived there were big news reports of a UFO sighting in town. The next day me and Jon poked around to “investigate”. I put together this little field report video.

 

PART 3:  Dumped In LARAMIE

 hound7

 

Upon leaving Denver, on our way to Idaho, the bus driver announced to our nearly full bus that a woman and her young child needed to sit together, and then requested to those individuals with 2 seats to themselves, if someone would give up their seats, and sit with someone else, so as the mother and daughter could sit together.  In typical Greyhound fashion, complete silence suddenly took hold. No one responded. Granted I was guilty, having of course already secured 2 seats to self, but I was hoping for someone in the front to step up so the mother and daughter didn’t have to be subjected to the usual back of bus swear word, drug use bragging debauchery.

The previous trip to Denver, the twenty sumthin clan in the back spent hours going through their laundry list of drug use and experiences from bath salts to 7 year crystal meth use. Seated just a few seats up were 2 young pre-teen daughters with their mom, who all got an unwanted “drugs are fun” sermon (to some credit, at one point the twenty sumthins woke up and realized who was audibly exposed to their drug diatribes and frantically started inserting lines like “don’t do drugs, drugs are bad,” all of which came off  in a too late comical haste).

Again, the driver asked a second time for someone to give up their seats for the mother and child. And once again, silence.

Finally myself, and some guy across from me spoke up at the same time. “BACK HERE, BACK HERE.”

I moved out of my seat and sat next to the other guy. Throughout the 20 plus hour ride the driver would thank me repeatedly, as not only he seemed to know the rarity of such a volunteered act, but was all to familiar with human nature, and specifically the character of the typical Greyhound Bus Rider.

I sat next to the other guy who had offered up his seat as well. He was Cody, a 145 pound mixed martial arts fighter, who preferred mostly to keep to himself.

“I generally try to just keep to myself on these things. People always ask each other ‘so where are you going’ and my attitude is like what kind of business is that of theirs!”

Cody was an interesting cat of sorts, having lived in Hawaii for a bit where he turned me on to the secret little hippy stretches where you could live good for 3 dollars a day. A few fights in Alaska and elsewhere, but originally he was from an isolated part of Oklahoma, an Indian res it sounded, as his mother was part Native American. Now he was on his way to Seattle to settle down some and train. He just learned his ex gal pal had also coincidentally moved to Seattle and there was the nervous boy/girl hook up excitement in the Greyhound air as Cody wondered how that situation was going to play itself out.

 hound8Bus break at the Petro Mart. Ogallala, Nebraskahound9 Dead Bucks, just shot. Ogallala, Nebraska.

 

We arrived in Laramie Wyoming at 4:30 a.m. for a scheduled 15 minute break, which ended up stretching into an unscheduled 45 minute episode.

Back in Denver I had noticed a young guy, middle eastern, 2 back packs on him, one in front and one on this back. He sat in the very far corner of the station, trying to keep to himself, which of course has the opposite effect, as isolating in a corner draws more attention.  On the bus, he did the same, went to the very, very back, last seat. A few behind me.

In Laramie I went to take a piss in the convenience store,  young bearded middle east also went in to whiz, then left quickly. I went outside and a few moments later I noticed Wyoming’s finest was casually cruising up to the convenience store in patrol car.  The officer got out and went to the side of the building, where middle east had decided to go after his quick whiz to light up some reefer to smoke.

Another cop car arrived and both officers began taking out bags of pot from middle east’s possession. Then they cuffed him up and took him away in the 4 am Wyoming night.

Greyhound ride ending, and Laramie troubles beginning for the failed middle eastern drug mule.

hound10

Another stop in Wyoming, Kik’s convenient store, where two young “Lizards” (slang for truck stop hookers), approached men while their boyfriends sat in their pickup truck with a sign on the window scrawled something to the effect of “Help Need $ Gas”…

In Salt Lake City we picked up a carney couple who hauled onto the bus a giant purple walrus stuffed animal that was to be thrown away by the Carnival crew, but the couple managed to proudly rescue the stuffed animal, promising they would sew it back up.  It seemed to be missing a leg.

Scotty and Mary were on their way back to Idaho as the not too lucrative Carnival season had just wrapped up. They were going to live with Scotty’s mother, and with her help they were going to try to get some disability checks going for Scotty, who proceeded to tell me:

“Physically I’m fine, my problems are all upstairs.”

This was confirmed throughout the trip.

Scotty was a truck driver and very smart in many ways, A.D. D. in others, and simply unaware the rest of the time. Remarking at one point how “all the Mexicans in North Las Vegas are just plain STUPID, period!” my gaze shifted directly behind Scotty where a well dressed Latino woman was sitting; now slowly and disgustingly covering her hand over her face at that remark and many others that would follow.

Scotty spent his time aboard the Hound alternating from trying to sneak his hand between his girlfriends legs to play with her pussy, then at times a dedicated nose picking session would take place where boogers would go from nostrils to tips of fingers, and just like his fingers would slip into his girlfriends pussy, his now booger laced fingertips slipped right in between his lips, as the tongue lapped up the tiny dried strings of mucous.

At one point a backpack was brought down from the overhead bin and when opened an enormous grocery store bought pumpkin sour cream streudle CAKE in plastic casing was revealed. It had already been nibbled on extensively and much of it was crushed and crumbled. Scotty would break off large chunks with booger stained hands, feeding it to himself and hand feeding to his girlfriend.

  hound11Scotty and walrus.

After manic phone calls to a manic mother, mad conversations with other Hound riders, eventually Scotty and his Girl attempted some shut eye, using the big purple walrus as a pillow.

I wondered how the two of them were going to make it. Then wondered how anyone was going to make it anyway. I thought how it may just take a lack of “upstairs” over thinking to plunder through the upcoming mystery landscape…

Arriving in Boise, Idaho and the two familiar Boise brothers, oddities of sorts in their own right, greeted me in the parking lot as I appeared wearing fake buck teeth, symbolizing the likely weirdo filmmaking we would engage in for the next few weeks.

Some of which is mentioned, and can be seen here.

Onto the familiar California terrain next..

hound13

hound14kelly B. abstract

[ Along with his journey report, Eli sent along a little extra personal note:

A bit behind in the transcribing to story, this was a decent length run to Denver a few weeks back, and then quickly on to Boise, Idaho, where I just left several days ago and GreyHounded it into California. Currently I’m committing “GreyHound Adultry” as I’m on an Amtrak, where it seems a quarter of everyone is drunk (they serve alcohol), a Jehovas witness is preaching the good word, and the next to tracks shanty town living squabble scenery makes me reconsider the train for the interesting sociological observings etc. Thanks as always for looking.]

[Resuming Eli Elliott’s tale of riding the Hound, here’s installment two, departing from Detroit.]

Second installment, a round trip Greyhound, from Detroit to Chicago and back. A ride which normally would take 4.5 hours or so by car ride, with the Greyhound you are looking at at least 9 hours each way, along with a bus change in Lansing, and if your bus doesn’t make the transfer, which seems a likely occurrence, your trip could then take you late into the night, or early morning, as you await the next coach to arrive.

“CHICAGO ROUND”

PART 1. “Two Seats To Self”

The goal of any Greyhound bus rider is to secure two seats for yourself. No matter who you are, when you have the coveted two seats to yourself arrangement, and you watch as a new passenger is walking down the aisle, you pray in your own way that the individual will keep moving and NOT sit down next to you. Two seats to oneself offers a substantially more comfortable and relaxed ride than having someone sitting next to you, forcing an upright cramped seating position for the grueling several hours to come.

In the past I have utilized a few screwball, if not shady, tactics to secure the two seats to self position. I’ve engaged in noticeable “mumbling to myself” behavior when new passengers were boarding and deciding where to sit. Usually this moves them right on past my two seats. If the stakes seem extra high, I would even throw in a few “nervous twitches” for good measure. Guaranteed, the newly boarded would always pass me up.

Our next stop would be Ann Arbor, which is typically a college town, as well as having a longtime reputation as a hippy haven. The dynamic aboard the bus changed as suddenly Detroit was forced to meet Ann Arbor. An Asian student politely makes his way to the back of the full bus asking a Detoiter if he may sit next to him as there are few seats available. The Detroiter frowns but obliges. The young Asian student says, “Thank you sir, thank you.”

A young 20 year old pasty white blond girl also is forced towards the back. She sits down next to  a pants pulled down Detroiter.  A few “aging hippies” find their place in the front. A young white hipster male initially had begun his way toward the back and after visually scanning the scene it was almost as if he slowly started walking backwards, then turning around frantically looking for a vacant seat in the front, which he did end up finding to his relief.

The mixing of Ann Arbor and Detroit was interesting to me. It was something specific to Greyhound bus travel. An uncomfortably forced situation where the two demographics have to share intimate space.

After a few hours people started opening up. The Detroiter across from me was convinced that we had just done one big circle and questioned whether the bus driver knew what he was doing. The guy sitting next to me finally opened up some as he checked a voice-mail message on his phone, then turned to me and said “the dude don’t wanna do 200 bucks for series tickets, damn they’re going for four hundred, four fiddy, this dude don’t wanna do 200…you know what I’m saying…damn..” I shook my head in agreement with him. The Detroit Tigers had just won the finals the night before and were now headed to the World Series. What I gathered was that this guy was trying to unload some tickets for 200 bucks and the would be buyer wasn’t buying, despite the alleged bargain…

In East Lansing the dynamic changed even further, with more college students boarding from the nearby Michigan State University. The conversations went from ticket scalping cheapskates to “I’m an Engineering Major” as two students introduced themselves to each other. For the past few hours when cell phones would go off, the musical ringtone would be that of a hardcore rap song. Now when cell phones were going off, the musical ringtone was 80’s pop music.

PART 2. Dreams.

We had switched buses in Lansing proper, and those of us Chicago bound travelers boarded an “Indian Trails” Bus. Indian Trails is apparently now part of the Greyhound service, but still run some of  their own separate routes, doing casino runs and charters. They operate out of Greyhound Stations, but seemingly are able to keep intact their own rules, along with a more laid back demeanor. While some of their buses looked very modern and slick, the one’s they use for Greyhound service seemed much older. The rejects perhaps.

Small video screens hung from about every 5th seat. None of them were operational. The bus driver wasn’t required to rattle off the usual “rules of the road” as is mandatory for the Greyhound drivers. Instead a barely audible recording is played.  For all intents and purposes I’ll still refer to Indian Trails as the Hound, as technically the two are in a way merged, and are essentially the same as far as bus travel goes.

Kalamazoo Gospel Mission directly across from the Greyhound Station.

Each Indian Trails Bus is “christened” with the name of a Native American Michigan Indian Chief.

The communication between the two bus companies proved to be poor. In Kalamazoo we waited 45 minutes for a Greyhound bus with passengers that would never end up showing.

While waiting outside the bus in Kalamazoo, I met Kenny.

Kenny, a young guy maybe 19 or 20, asked me where I was going, and I told him “Chicago”.  I asked him if he was going there to and he said “no”. I then said “where to”.  Kenny said “Salt Lake City”. For some reason it took me a moment to remember where I was and where his destination was, so after a few seconds I finally responded “Jeezus, Salt Lake City!” (as in that’s a long way).

Kenny smiled as if he’d been baiting me this whole time, waiting for an opportunity to tell me the following..  “Yep. You see that guy there inside the bus? Me and him… We’re headed to Truckin’ School.”

Fuckin’ Truckin’ School I thought. Wow. Always having a somewhat “if I had it to do all over” fascination with the idea of  “Truckin’ School”, I prodded further and asked Kenny about the specifics.

He told me that Truckin’ School basically broke down to 17 days of training, classroom and otherwise, then you have to put in 150,000 miles of road time, riding with someone else (which Kenny estimated would only take a week “considering you’d be driving all over the country”). Then you have to work for the company for 6 months. And then you get your own rig.

I was fascinated by it all and I told Kenny, “Wow man, that’s really great.”

And then Kenny replied back.

“Yeah, it’s really great…seeing as it’s always been my dream, to be a trucker.”

It was a young man, on his way towards his training. Training for his dream job.

I was kind of taken by this. His enthusiasm was subtle and soft spoken, but very genuine. He was excited inside and enjoyed sharing his Salt Lake sojourn with someone. I fended off the back of mind thoughts that lurked within, i.e. peak oil, rising gas prices, fairly recent and likely future trucker strikes, realizations that 3000 mile Caesar salad deliveries were no longer sustainable.  Instead I stayed in the moment and let the dream of road job romanticism wash over me.

After talking with me Kenny seemed more comfortable and at our next stop he told someone else, “I’m headed to Salt Lake City…I’m going to Truckin’ School.”

Nightfall arrived and we were, finally, out of Michigan. Somewhere just past Gary Indiana a swash of light suddenly appeared out the window off the elevated freeway. I rose up from a failed attempt at slumber, looked out the window and saw huge bright lights shining down onto a field. It was a high school football game. A play was in progress and the young men clamored about in all seriousness on the field. Even in the quick passing one could see the tension and energy taking place below; the bright lights, the people in the stands cheering and the young guys themselves embroiled in gridiron battle. It was Friday night in Autumn America.

Not but a mile or so later we passed by another slice of classic America, a small corner bar, recognizable from it’s old time brightly lit sign which read something like “BILL AND NICKS TAP”. Clearly a bar that’s been there for some years now.

These two back to back brightly lit situations in their own right, spurred on an immediate connective thought; I wondered how many men whom once had clamored on that same football field years ago, were now semi-permanently residing a mile away, inside Bill and Nicks Tap. The Gary Indiana glory days long gone, and never having found anything to really replace them with. Never leaving the city, always staying close to that one time glory, but not too close. A stool to forever reminisce a mile away at Bill and Nicks, would have to suffice. For so many in America the peak of popularity, grandeur and glory resides and remains forever, in those short, fleeting high school years. I thought about how their dream dies, when the “13th grade” arrives…

(CHICAGO INTERLUDE)

My presence in Chicago actually had a purpose as it was mainly to attend the Chicago International Film Festival where a documentary film was playing, and I was to cover it, make a little rough film about the response and reception of it, as it had to do with the subject of Cold Fusion technology, something I’m an advocate for; giving myself a save our ship purpose of sorts, though likely it could be more for the next ship that rises, as ours seems to be sinking quick.  Anyway, a look at that can be found here.

It was also a visit to see my brother, Matt, and newly hatched nephew, Jake, whom I would hang out and stay a few nights with. A quick immersion in the bustling, active and energetic Chicago City way of life…

Meanwhile, back on the Hound…

PART 3. The Recently Released.

An absolute staple of Greyhound character is “the recently released inmate”. Ride the Hound enough and you’ll eventually come across the recently released.

“I just got out of the clink”

My return trip to Detroit featured a not so stereotypical recently released. This was a young 20 year old almost suburban looking white male who apparently had spent the last few years inside, though at one point he said he had escaped from one correctional institution. After a short time on the lam, with the authorities hassling his family for his whereabouts, he decided to turn himself back in.

“I turned myself back in. I called them right up and said, ‘you guys want me, then you can come and pick me up. I’m on the corner of so and so street, smoking my last blunt, and I’ll be waiting…”

He talked about his various “cellies” (cellmates) a few who had 100 years to serve, some of the politics of prison in regards to the different factions; that even if your Latin and get your weed from the Aryan nation, if you diss an Aryan they have to mess you up on principle, despite the business arrangements and dealings otherwise.

The bits and pieces I picked up from his own troubles seemed to stem from 50 thousand dollars worth of settlement money that he had received, in which he proceeded to completely blow over the next 2 months compliments of high end hotel suites and an alternating habit of injecting bath salts and methamphetamine. He said he’s now clean, and will remain clean, just sticking with marijuana only.

But with the veracity, energy and eagerness to pour out and sometimes romanticize his troubles, this led me to wonder if when telling this saga over and over eventually got old, would the temptations to dive in and create more drama, a new story, overwhelm and lead to more use, and in turn more trouble?

PART 4. “Two Pints”

This deceiving appearance of the “normal looking guy” again played itself out at the Battle Creek, Michigan stop, when we picked up a late 30’s average looking joe white guy, whom I wouldn’t have thought anything about, if I had not noticed  that when he sat down in his Greyhound seat the back of his T-shirt rose up, revealing two glass pints of whiskey tucked between his underwear and skin. Basically one pint just above each ass cheek. He would spend the next hour or so sneaking sips from the two pints and then washing it down with a 20 oz. bottle of PEPSI.

He eventually had to use the chemical toilet bathroom at the back of the bus. This was during a stretch when our bus driver was frantic about trying to make our downtown Lansing stop, where many of us needed to switch buses and make our transfers on time. We were already 25 minutes late, and our driver frequently warned us on the overhead speaker how our connecting bus “may or may not” wait for us. She had no answer when asked what we would do if they didn’t wait for us.

At one point, in the rush to make the transfer on time, our driver attempted to go through a yellow light, but then quickly put on the brakes when it became apparent the light was going to turn red and she wasn’t going to make it.  The bus jolted forward as the brakes were applied, and from the bathroom in back we heard a very loud “Whoooaaaaa” followed with a long drawn out, “Whaaaat the fuuuuuck!?”

It was Two Pints. He was still in the bathroom. The entire bus began laughing out loud.

Knowing he had been drinking heavy, I was likely the only one who wondered if he had actually been vomiting in there. In which case, the sudden lurch forward of the bus could have forced his head right into the toilet bowl, while the blue chemical liquid laced urine and poo would have washed all over his face…

Five minutes later, Two Pints emerged from the latrine, a bit embarrassed and shaken, and now seemingly cleaned off.

In and unusual move, the other Greyhound bus that many of us needed to transfer onto, actually waited for us and didn’t leave despite our 20 minute tardiness. We hurriedly entered the other bus where a bunch of disgruntled passengers were already seated, waiting to leave.

By the time Two Pints got on the bus he couldn’t seem to find himself a seat, and ended up having to sit directly behind the drivers seat. I shuddered at this move and almost felt like motioning him to come sit back here with me, as I’ve seen it before with the alcoholics aboard, one whiff of whisky breath and you’re thrown off the Hound.  I thought he was a goner for sure as the bus driver entered , sat at the stern and began pulling out of the station while stupid Two Pints started talking to the driver in his loopy half drunk manner, not to mention the whiskey stench.  But when nothing happened and the driver didn’t give him the boot from the bus, this further convinced me that the chemical blue face-wash had indeed occurred, as it likely had caused a masking effect to the alcoholic odor.

I actually talked to Two Pints outside at our next stop about the quick breaking bathroom incident, but all he would say about it in a still semi drunk demeanor was, “that sucked… that really, really sucked”.

I noticed a thin wallet with a bill or two sticking out of his back pocket practically screaming for a pickpocket. And here Two Pints was headed for downtown Detroit, 10pm at night, half drunk. Jesus.

I finally got off the Hound back in Southfield,  9 plus hours after I’d boarded, and it felt as if I had traveled back all the way from New York City, and not the relatively close Chicago. But that’s The Hound.

It was Monday night and I thought about how Kenny had likely just finished up his very first day of Truckin’ School…

Miguel Vargus, Florida, 5th bust, going back for more time

[If you wish to see Eli in one of his other roles, he has a Vimeo channel and you can find him on Facebook as well.]

Hurricane Sandy rolls off the American East CoastGrand Coulee dam, photo JostPhilip GustonGrant Wood

Above photos: J Jost

WeegeeJasper JohnsJost

Russell Means, AIMSusan RothenbergJostThe Real Thing

With the blessings of the Supreme Court’s  Citizens United ruling, which has sanctified money as a form of speech and proscribed any limits for it, the present quadrennial cycle of America’s political landscape has flourished as never before, with literally billions of dollars being spent to broadcast a flood of bile and lies, amplified by the corporate owned “press,” which now merely repeats the calculated sound-bites of the candidates and their PACs and party propaganda organs, and has unleashed a flood worse than that with which Hurricane Sandy inundated New Jersey and New York.  Our electoral system has gone berserk on a hit of endless greenback steroids, and a “politically correct” 4th Estate which seems unable to call a lie a lie, and is clearly in the pockets of our corporatocracy.  Awash in a constant dose of fraud and corruption, our citizenry is numbed, as is clearly the intention of the Wizards of Oz who manipulate this social landscape with the purpose of concentrating the land’s wealth into ever fewer hands and stripping any control of political and economic levers from anyone but themselves.  The Plutocracy is in full flower, shamelessly.   Their advocate Mr Romney, himself of minor wealth by comparison, is game for any contortion required, and the exhausted and corrupted body politic applauds this as if politics were a bizarre circus in which the greater the pretzel twisting, the more the reward.  America has descended in a political death spiral, as if instantly turning itself into a mode of Berlusconi’s Italy in which criminality runs the show and the larger part of the population gazes in admiration at the capacity of the crooks to bend the system to their will.  Where we once pointed to others as the ultimate in corruption – Italy, Egypt, some Central American “Banana Republic” – we can now only honestly point to ourselves.

Edward Hopper

Jost

Shulamith FirestoneEmily Dickenson and Kate Scott TurnerJackie and JFKBrooks Range, Alaska; Sebastian Salgado

Bikini Island nuclear test X-ray1Sol Lewitt drawing

Eli Elliott

The last time I saw Eli was in Tampa, back in the spring, just after I’d returned to USA, and was doing some screenings and such to round up some bucks.   He’d driven down there, slowly, losing his traveling companion, a cat, in some trailer home place near St Louis.  He was staying in Tampa at a place someone in the family had.   We had a Mexican meal downtown and he gave me a ride back to my friend Charles Lyman, out by a river.   I got some pics of him and his rig:

Eli’s bumper ornamentEli rides again (with his minimo-x)

On my trip I had occasion to take the bus a few times – from Nashville to Knoxville, and from Owatonna, Minnesota to Omaha, and, back in 2002, when I’d returned from 10 years out of the country, I took one from Tampa to Columbus, SC.  Talking with Eli I described the experience as riding with “the other America.”    Not the same folks as the planes, for sure.   As it happens his rolling converted emergency vehicle has mechanical problems, and recently his father, in Detroit, had a heart attack, so to go up to see him and perhaps be of help, he took the bus.  He sent me and some other a “collective  send” about it and I liked a lot and asked if I could print here.  So here’s installment one.   Later he’ll be heading to Boise, Idaho.

THE GREYHOUND CHRONICLES (1)

I’m back on the Hound for now, possibly on/off for next 2-3 months. As some have mentioned in the past that they’ve  missed my Greyhound stories (2 or 3 people) I present them as they unravel, via email for the selected. Please email back “SPARE ME” if not wanted. A brief update on other things in general I will also squeeze in between, but for now here’s a first string of notes and ramblings from THE GREYHOUND, also called by friend Jon, “The Other America”.

ST. PETE TO SOUTHFIELD

 (36 Hours – Fri. Night Depart – Sun. Morning Arrive. Numerous 1-5 hour Bus Station layovers involved)

 Our Coach, outside Atlanta, I think…

PART 1 :  “GARY”

“PFFT.. YEAH RIGHT..”

Upon arrival at the Tampa Florida bus terminal on the first short stretch of otherwise long Greyhound travel to Southfield Michigan, our Greyhound driver informed us that our under the bus bags would be automatically shuffled over to the proper coach in which we were transferring onto. I turned around to the guy behind me muttering a mocking comment at the announcement.

This baggage shuffle routine is notorious for scenarios where folks show up at their final destination only to discover their bags hadn’t followed them. 36 hours later I would  meet such a guy who’d been traveling the same route as I, and upon arrival, was 1 bag shy. “Goddamnit now I’m gonna have to deal with a shitload of red tape tryin’ to git my damn bag back”

In the meantime my knee jerk mutterings landed to the ears of the guy behind me. A guy named GARY.

Around 60, very worn face, full beard with nicotine stained ‘stache, Gary had some trouble reading the departure times on his ticket and asked if I could help. Gary was on his way to Boston, where he had a Doctors appointment scheduled.  I noticed on his forearm what looked liked a ping pong ball stuffed under his skin, which expanded and further disguised the image of his dull, faded green forearm tattoo.

While in Boston Gary also hoped to visit his only son who was a HELLS ANGEL, the Sergeant of Arms for that particular chapter, and who was currently incarcerated, awaiting court proceedings where it looked as though he could be facing a life sentence. We never discussed the crime and I knew better than to ask, since Gary wouldn’t have let on anyway if it was Angels related, which I suspected. His sons ordeal clearly pained Gary and while passing by freeway lights in the 3 am near pitch black bus I’d catch glimpses of him wiping his eyes when the conversation came back to his boy.

Me and Gary would end up talking throughout most of the night, and into the beginnings of the next day.

Gary was one of those unsummed American hellraisers who had lived a wild life consisting of muscle cars, motorcycles, frequent intoxications and numerous stints inside prisons; “workouts” he would call his time inside. The worn face had marked his own cheats on death, many of which he told me, while at the same time signified the now potentially soon arrival towards death.  I told him it sounded like he’s had a helluva ride. Upon reflection, “Well, yeah, I sure did have a lotta fun (in life)”.

He lived a far and wide life as well. From workin’ an oil rig in Texas to the pipeline gig in Alaska to Los Angeles drug running via Maui, and to what he called “Gypsy Asphalting” which consisted of working for a group of con men who would  lay down asphalt every month in a different state; as Gary explained: “after a month, all the asphalt we laid would eventually come back up, but by then we’d be moved on to another state doin’ it all over again…”  Gypsy Asphaltin’.

None of this was bravado, but more humble. His stories unfolded natural, with a bit of subtle prying on my part. This needs to be said as many Hound riders can be compulsive in their braggart story tellings.  Gary would’ve been just some guy with a doctors appointment had I not listened and shown some interest which he picked up on.

Before hopping aboard the Hound, I had just learned that the movie premiere of Kerouacs novel ON THE ROAD was screening somewhere tonight. Rather than having gone see it I realized I was celebrating it by undertaking Jack’s favorite form of travel, the Greyhound Bus. And I was meeting Gary who provided his own verbal rambling novella, and would likely never have a movie made on him, though probably could, maybe should, but no, never would.

A glimpse of Gary

PART 2 :  “BOB”

Swaggering steady through the Tampa bus terminal was a man with a full suit on, yet the tie was undone, the shirt unbuttoned, and the hair disheveled; a bad day on Wall Street perhaps. But since this was a Friday  in Western Florida, inside a Greyhound Bus terminal nearing midnight, Bob’s story was a bit different.

Bob, 70, was headed all the way back to El Centro California where he owned 100 acres in the desert, 12 miles from the Mexico border.  He prided himself in his sharing of the land, by allowing travelers or passer throughs to stay there for a bit while he would feed and fix meals for them. “And I’m not talking no rice and beans…When I prepare a meal for someone…I prepare a MEAL.”  Bob talked to me further about his willingness to help out folks due to his own on edge situation and not knowing how much longer he had in life to live, and not having anyone to really give the land to as an inheritance when he was gone. So I guess he was giving a little of it to everyone while he was still alive.

The journey ahead of Bob was a ridiculous 3 or 4 day Greyhound ordeal shooting him in all kinds of roundabout directions, anything from the straight shot route one would think to travel to Southern California if looking at a map. And one wondered, if his suit and disheveledness as it was after only day 1, what would become of Bob after a day 3 or 4. Would he even make it.

That thought became stronger as he held up his only carry on luggage which was a casino plastic bag which had the advertisement image of  hundreds of clumped together dollar bills on the front along with the name of the casino.

“This is my pharmacy”, he told me. Dozens of various medications filled the plastic bag as Bob described his ailments ranging from diabetes to heart disease to a number of psychological conditions.

Bob had been in southern Florida visiting some relatives but also settling an insurance claim in which he had just yesterday received 7 thousand dollars for.  It had involved a car that had hit Bob while he was on his bicycle last June. Bob had threatened to sue for 250,000 dollars and ensured the insurance company that his story would be printed in every major news publication in the United States.  He said the company then offered up the 7 grand settlement the very next day. Bob took it.

On smoke breaks Bob would heatedly argue with Greyhound employees who would tell him he couldn’t smoke outside the building and had to go to the designated area. “This is public space…I can smoke right here where I’m at.” One time a nearby policeman was called in and threatened to arrest Bob in 2 seconds if he came back out here to smoke. “HA – Yeah and  then I’d be out after 2 minutes officer”.  The cop stupidly retorted for the sake of stupidly retorting, “No you’d be in for 2 weeks.. and you’d miss your bus.”

Later I would look for Bob to ask him for his address if I was ever that far South when in California. But when I found Bob he was already seated on board his next bus which was about to leave. I told myself and for some reason felt confident that all I’d have to do was go to El Centro and I would somehow run into Bob within an hour or so.

“Bob”

PART  3 :  “STRANDED STRANGER AND THE LITTLE K EPISODE”

A little town in Tennessee we pulled into to have our 10 minute break at a small convenience store. Grab some food or smoke a cig then rush back onto the bus.    And back aboard the all too familiar post 10 minute break scene begins to unfold; once all settled in and the bus takes off down the road, an object or two will be noticed on a now vacant seat, and the question arises “wasn’t there someone sitting there like 10 minutes ago”?

In this case a lone pillow remaining on a now vacant seat told the nightmare scenario of a passenger getting left behind during our 10 minute break. I’ve seen it happen a number of times in the past and not once did the driver attempt to turn around. This time was no different as the drivers denial response upon telling her was “people leave pillows behind all the time”.

A few minutes later we discover what we determine to be the guys backpack in the overhead rack. At our next passenger pickup stop 25 minutes down the road, the driver must’ve gotten a call as she had to, coldly, confess, “Yeah he got left…”  Left in the middle of Tennessee at some convenient store.

But there was now a new situation emerging in the form of a 5 foot 1, 20 something year old Korean girl. She was getting on the bus as a new passenger but there was some squabbling outside over her ticket that apparently she hadn’t fully paid for. It was all unclear what the situation was all about, but the driver seemed to allow her entry and began aggravatingly throwing her bags inside the lower luggage compartment, but then little Korean gal began yelling and grabbing the driver trying to prevent the bags from going in for whatever reason. After the grabbing the driver took her bags out from underneath and then refused her entry on the bus altogether. The driver then quickly tried to drive off which prompted Little K to throw herself in front of the bus causing the driver to brake as not to hit her. She then would give a little gas, go forward a few inches hoping to prompt her out of the way. Little K didn’t budge.

A standoff ensued.

The Standoff…

It was Little K standing firmly in front of our bus and the driver becoming infuriated not knowing what to do, knowing she was stuck. Back and forth yelling occurred and I of course attempted to film the event whereas the driver became pissed at me shouting, “Stop filming this.. I don’t want to be on YouTube!” I lowered my camera but then raised it back up.

Passengers started getting unruly as they worried about missing their transfers and such. Some racist humor was also attempted. One comment from a guy in front was, “Not to be rude, but CHINA is in the other direction”. From the back of the bus another comment was something to effect of “problem with these damn Chinese people is you can’t understand em”.

The Tennessee cops arrived and diffused the situation by coaxing Little K out from her standoff position, and then oddly explained to her how she was smaller than the bus and wouldn’t be able to withstand the impact of a large moving vehicle while standing in front of it.

Within 30 minutes this driver had managed to leave a guy behind in the middle of Tennessee and allow a situation to explode into a complete standstill requiring police intervention.

 

PART 4 : BRIEF/RANDOM OBSERVATIONS

-AN AMISH FAMILY, man/woman, small boy, smaller girl and an elder male, all in full Amish regalia including the 2 small children hats and all, on board the Greyhound. We  take an exit around midnight in Tennessee and pass by a BP gas station, go a couple hundred more yards, pull into the Sonoma Farm store and there waiting is a horse tied to a post with a carriage attached to horse. The Amish exit, the elder waves bye to the rest, turns and disappears into the night while the woman and children enter the carriage and man dismounts horse from post and they begin there sojourn home. Various contrasts enter mind, i.e the passing of BP gas contrasted by a tied up waiting horse powered unit only short distance away; the presence of Amish aboard the gas guzzlin’ Greyhound in the first place; the Amish dress, in particular the woman and young baby girls ridiculous head dress which seemingly blinded their view from left and right and I wondered if it was more symbolism than function.

-NO ONE CARES ANYMORE/HONESTY EMERGES. The whole Greyhound system running off of a surprising theme of blunt honesty; everyone is miserable and they don’t bother hiding it anymore. No one wants to be here, passengers and in particular the drivers as after my first stretch our driver didn’t try to hide his comments to the greasy spoon bus station cashier as he ordered 2 big burgers to fight off his famine as he repeated slow and a bit too serious “..it took EVERYTHING I HAD IN ME, to make this run tonight…”

Two other incidents, separate bus station cafeterias, one cashier admitting to all within earshot that buying the overpriced food here was “highway robbery”, the other made sure to inform me to “keep that coffee cup, bring it with you to every stop and you can get a 25 cent refill, they don’t want us telling you that but I always tell everyone that during these times…otherwise you have to pay another 2 dolla’s…you keep that cup..”

And that cup I may just try to keep for all future trips. Next is a Chicago round trip.

Eli on the road.

A big thanks to Eli for letting me publish this and I look forward to the next installments.  If you wish to see Eli in one of his roles, he has a Vimeo channel and  you can find him on Facebook as well.

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