The View From Down Here by Raindog (Jan. 1997)
Usually, one takes stock of things past around this time of year, and makes a loose plan for the future. Resolutions. Like lose some weight or stop whining so much or be a man (not a mouse or a monster). There are usually some big promises made to some one of higher authority, whether it’s to some guy with a beard hovering in the clouds or some gal with a rolling pin hovering in the bedroom.
This year my big promise is to be true. It is a promise that I do not make lightly (there is no guy in the sky and no dame in my game); it is a promise that I make to all of you.
When you stop to consider it, what does true mean? Is it some kind of loyalty oath, as in true blue? Or some subscription to a set of ideals, as in truisms? Just what the hell are you going on about, this time, Mr. Raindog?
It is, put simply, the true way. “To thine own self be true”, etc.
This may not seem like much to you, but I can tell you that being true is, perhaps, one of the hardest things there is to do. Living true. It doesn’t even sound like a real word, let alone a real concept or ideal. True. It could stand for trust, respect, understanding, empathy, because these are all things that I strive towards and believe in; although lately, I’ve fallen short on some of those categories. But striving towards them is still my aim.
I’m remembering a Christmas season that was encompassed by another, more personal season in hell. It was the winter of 1983 and I was nearing the end of a long campaign of self-degradation. As this particular Christmas approached, and I in my utter denial, prepared to do the Christmas gift thing (after all one must keep up appearances, at least for the sake of family and the few friends that I had left), I had managed to achieve the loss of the best/worst relationship I have ever had since, the loss of my self-respect as a viable member of the human race, the loss of several friendships that had made up my ‘safety net’ against the perils of the economic poverty that I’ve always lived with and the loss of a roof over my head (and the modern conveniences that are so easily taken for granted). In short, I was homeless. I was alcoholic. I was hardly fit to be called a human being. But, I was also a survivor. And because of this, this sheer will to continue, this tenacity to struggle onwards, because of this, I am able to tell this tale, today, some fourteen years later.
What I remember of that season spent in hell is spotty, memories blotted and smeared by age and warped by the effects of being on a 700 day drinking jag (OUCH!). But, I do remember, with fondness, my plywood cell, a six foot by twelve foot assemblage that I lovingly referred to as the “Fool’s Paradise”, after the Mose Allison hit, “I’m just living in a...”. This contraption was attached to the bed of my ‘54 Chevy flatbed (which I had to sell last year because I still live within the walls of poverty - don’t ask me why, I don’t have an answer). One thing stands out very clearly for me, like a single burning ember in a sea of gray ash; a moment captured in a single phrase.
I remember standing on the beach at the foot of Palos Verdes, I think it’s called Rat Beach by the locals (a very appropriate name ‘cause I sure felt like a rat in those days). I was wandering along, lost in the jangled swirl of thoughts that played in my head like some insane, demonic Musac; when, suddenly, for no apparent reason it stopped! I blinked and looked around me at the cliffs, the sea, the horizon, and northwards towards Santa Monica and Pt. Dume (it was one of those insanely clear days that help us to know that it’s winter here in sunny SoCal). And then, this thought:
Behind me, nothing; in front of me, everything.
It was as close to a religious experience as I could imagine. I’ve had several eye-openers like this in my life, all within the last twenty years or so, but for some reason this one has taken over a decade to germinate.
In front of me, everything - all possibilities, all choices, all repercussions, all mine.
So what does this have to do with being true? I wouldn’t be the man I am without the rigors that shaped me. These obstacles of past and present (and future, I guess) are part of the tempering process; they are the folding and hammering that determines how strong my “steel” will be. If I have survived this long without succumbing to the temptations of greed and avarice, without assuming the criminal mindset, without abandoning hope, it’s because of that glowing ember of the true way that burns in me still, today, now.
The View From Down Here by Raindog (Mar. 1997)
“Into each life some rain must fall, but too much is falling in mine...”
My vehicle was recently vandalized, broken into, raped, violated not once but twice in one month by a person or persons unknown. It was cleaned out while I slept. Everything taken except for a coffee cup. Now the damned thing looks like a starter kit for a ‘Mad Max’ movie prop. So be it.
Is some punk (or punks) going to succeed in pushing me out of my current locale (in scenic Downtown S.P.)? I don’t know. But I won’t give up without a fight. If I have to invest in a car alarm, so be it. If I have to find some other place to park it, fine! As long as I don’t have to succumb to the temptation.
The temptation is to say, “OK. The world is an awful place populated by greedy, evil people who would just as soon fuck with you as brush their rotten teeth. The world is rotten, people are jerks, there’s no point in trying to be a nice guy or do right, when everyone is doing wrong! The best thing to do is find a clique of like minded people and fortify yourself against the rest of the jerks! Everybody cheats, lies and steals. Maybe even God has gotten a little casual. The President’s a schmuck! Congress is full of liars and thieves. The government is as rotten as a junkie’s teeth. The military is either dope-crazed or sex-crazed or just plain crazed. The cops are all on the take! Even OJ managed to squeeze through! Hell, the whole country is so corrupt it’s a wonder that we don’t just collapse into a big pile of foul smelling rust, rot and ruin!”
The temptation is to stop, STOP! fighting the course of the river of hatred and sloth and just get down with everyone else! Get in the dirt and start to fightin’! The temptation is take back the streets by taking out anyone who looks suspicious or evil or different.
I dreamed I had deathray eyes and could vaporize all those who were in my way or who might have wronged me in the past or, hell, who might even wrong me in the future. I drove through the streets taking out punks and crazy people and junkies and smug guys in suits and smug guys with smug cars and smug gals and smug dogs and gothic kids who were too white and buzzcut kids who wore their pants too low and anyone with more than one tattoo visible, on and on until, there was no one left! And then I caught a glimpse of myself in the rear view looking just a bit too satisfied and I had to take myself out, as well!
The temptation is to stop forgiving and overlooking the petty B.S. (and isn’t it mostly petty, up to ‘life and limb’?) and yield to the desire to kick some ass, to finally get EVEN with SOMEONE for SOMETHING!
The temptation is to catch that power-buzz from doing, DOING someone; from making someone else’s life miserable for a change. To ‘get it while the gettin’s good’! Take back the power and woe to anyone that gets in the way!
That’s the temptation.
But really, it’s just a stereo and a few personal momento’s and a battery and some time spent cleaning up after someone else’s mess. Some sorry, blighted soul with a personal ax to grind. That’s all. And even though more politicians are elected on the promise of safety and more heinous crimes are committed in the name of good, can I really justify becoming what I have fought all my life to avoid? Namely, becoming a villain? No, I cannot.
As tempting as it is, I won’t succumb to that this day.
The View From Down Here by Raindog (April 1997)
The Human Being is prone to a self-imposed oblivion
Aware of the impending downfall, the days begin to slip away from me in a defiance of logic : The lesson of History is those who do not learn from the mistakes of the past must repeat them; implying that death is inevitable until we figure otherwise, that despite our best intentions and efforts all that we know and love and hate will be so much dust after our passing. The legacy of all my days will neither serve nor hinder the passage of time, nor alter the seasons, nor rearrange the stars.
But I could be wrong; and it’s in the believing of that that keeps me in the dilemma.
Is life really just a conveyor belt that dumps us into the great belching fire-breathing mouth of an uncaring eternity? Are we just bouncing along heading into the wind, supposing that some act or another will be immortalized and that somehow we will cheat death in some small way, perhaps living beyond our oh-so-finite span.
All this I deduced while watching the “parade” down sixth street. Poetry in motion as life unfolds, Saturday morning, the jazz is thumping, the biggest cat in the whole world resides in the window (what’s he thinking about?). Trees shimmer, their leaves massaged by something called wind (what is that, anyway?). The red awning enshrines the law office (378) next to the Japanese Restaurant that rejects oriental philosophy (Sen-fuk-u). The glass mirrors the traffic flow cars and moving bodies merging in both directions at the point of intersection; a geometric anomaly like hate/love or fear/desire; like phone calls that turn ugly or stop making sense in mid-sentence; or like shadow-ghosts lurking just beyond the periphery of one’s vision or bad feelings over coffee; or the smells of decay and old age.
I just can’t get away from the rot.
Maybe it’s being forty six and not feeling like I’m that old, and yet the fact is I am; whatever the implications are, it’s inescapable, and next time I’ll be forty seven and so on until the dust collects.
I think of those who are already gathering dust and I wonder about them. I picture their faces, their bodies laid out in the final contentment; eyes closed and serenely drifting off to Valhalla (at least that’s how the morticians make it look - in truth it’s something else entirely). Maybe, it’s that March ninth (the date that the great one, H.C.Bukowski, leaned over and penetrated the other side) reminds me each year that I’m that much closer to the same fate; the only fate that we all share in common with everything :
ashes to ashes,
dust to dust,
all things will end
and, perhaps, good riddance, who knows? Not me, that’s for sure. And all this while Saturday March eighth rolls along.
shadow of a bird passes over awning
and the world’s biggest cat draws another comment
and this is it : me, the books, the parade, the cat, the red awning, the day; oh yeah, this is definitely it!
“Allen Ginsberg died today at the age of seventy after years of sheet lightning backdrops over endless Kansas wheatfields. Stopping for refills of gas and coffee and love, like him I look to the ways in which the words do it all on this beautifully sad adventure we imagine we are having.” Mike Bruner, April 5th (Dedication from the chapbook Walt Whitman’s Beard)
The View From Down Here by Raindog (May 1997)
“ My God! I’m thinking, what incredible shit we put up with most of our lives - the stupid domestic routine, the stupid and useless and degrading jobs, the insufferable arrogance of elected officials, the crafty cheating and slimy advertising of the businessmen, the tedious wars in which we kill our buddies instead of our real enemies back home in the capital, the foul diseased and hideous cities and towns we live in, the constant petty tyranny of automatic washers and automobiles and Tvs and telephones... what intolerable garbage and what utterly useless crap we bury ourselves in day by day, while patiently enduring at the same time the creeping strangulation of the clean white collar and the rich but modest four-in-hand garrote!”
excerpt from Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
I’ve been reading Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire again (along with Bukowski’s Betting on the Muse - I needed something light to balance out Abbey’s cynicism). I’ve been reading it, in part because I can’t get away for a vacation, and because this seems to be my season in the wilderness. But my wilderness is not located in some special place set aside by Congress for all to enjoy. My wilderness is the city, with its wastelands of poverty and greed; with its stark contrasts of crimson dusk reflected on sheer glass walls of an impersonal skyline glowing against a backdrop of somber gray peaks, their faces hidden (or perhaps hiding) from view behind a curtain of dirty, brown smoke. The beautiful desolation of solitude - alone with my thoughts in a crazy, knocked-out swarm of humanity; a tapestry of cultures unfurling at my feet like a welcome mat on the threshold of Purgatory or vibrating before my eyes like heat waves on a dry lakebed.
Abbey wrote about the canyon lands of southeast Utah back in the late fifties and early sixties, and yet, his words take on a timelessness that makes them universal. If he thought he had to put up with crap then, my God, what would he say now?! Consider the piles of crap that we must surmount in our daily lives just to make ends meet! It’s a veritable Himalayan pile of garbage! But, somehow, we persevere. Somehow we keep striving towards the summit. Somehow our hunger for the next unseen hillside keeps us moving ahead.
I, too, have a hunger that’s eating at me... a hunger for dirt. Not a plot of dirt to be buried in, but a plot of dirt to plant my seeds in. Some fecund soil to plow, to churn into a rich loam, where the fruits of my labor will break ground and bring me a peace that has been all but forgotten. I long for a serene architecture of stone, carved by wind and water, sculpted by time and the primordial forces of geology. Is it because I live in a land of concrete, a land where the “topsoil” is man-made from pea gravel, sand, lime, tar and asphalt, a land where the dirt is kept above ground, as if on display, as if to remind us of where our “roots” should go; is it because of this that I dream of the glories of planting? Or is my desire to plow and sow merely transference of my need to do the horizontal bop in the fields of love’s own native glory? It’s something to ponder. It is spring, after all. A time of coupling, of joining, hmm...
THE VIEW FROM DOWN HERE by Raindog (Sept. 1997)
"If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles." Song Of Myself -- Walt Whitman
Is Whitman speaking of reincarnation? No. He is speaking of the poet as part of the universal heh-now that is this ball of confusion that we call home. "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust..." We rise from the earth and then we return to its cool embrace. It’s a cycle that cannot be broken. Whitman knew it. We all know it.
Whitman addressed the pain of living with such a lyrical and eloquent style that he is still widely read today. This is pretty amazing when you consider the hard-boiled style of poetry in the latter half of this century. Whitman could probably take on the Slamsters and become king! Few would argue that Whitman has not had a profound effect on American poets of this century. His writing directly touched the lives of Allen Ginsberg and the Beats and sent modern poetry tumbling head over heels.
But why, you might wonder, am I, a ‘hard-boiled Bukowski-ite’, bringing up Whitman? Good question. Whitman: veteran of the Civil War, a medic; veteran of the post Lincoln dip in American greatness; veteran of pre-Victorian homophobia. Citizen Whitman, witnessed the joys and sorrows of his day, and, as poet, documented their effect. It was his outrage that inspired Leaves Of Grass; his outrage and his love of self, of God and country. The outcast patriot. I’m sitting here thinking of the poet as outcast, as one who must be, by the very nature of the occupation; separate -- not aloof -- merely distinct from one’s surroundings; 'in the world but not of the world,' an almost Zen-like detachment.
The stated purpose of this journal is the examination of the creative process. That examination is hardly ever didactic, taking on more of a personalized tone; a homey look at the creative process through commentary, interview and the occasional poem. It has never been my goal to dissect creativity, but, rather to comment on how it interfaces with our lives. Sometimes, it feels like the path has been lost. Like now.
I’m in a slump, not just any old slump, but the one that the big boys call "writer’s block". I haven’t reached the ‘shotgun cleaning’ stage yet, but I’m definitely stuck. Stuck? Yeah, well, I can still produce the non-poetry writing, like this; but the poetry is trickling out of me, drop by drop. I’m told not to think about it, that "it" will come back to me. When you’re used to getting "it" on a regular basis, it’s hard not to notice that "it" isn’t present in your life.
So what caused the vein of mother poetry to run out? One can never say for sure, but I suspect that life under the magnifier of public opinion has contributed. A few months back, I got into a harangue with the local paper, here in San Pedro. It started out as a simple mistake on their part, which they refused to correct and escalated into a series of running skirmishes in the 'Letters to the Ed' section. 25 years of pride in my ‘good name’ wouldn’t let me walk away from it. They were impugning my reputation, for Christ’s sake! Willie the Shake said; "if you prick me, do I not bleed?" In other words, if you mess with me, am I not touched by your actions, am I not moved to respond?
Eventually this escalated into name calling and Bukowski/Raindog bashing from a sorry-sounding old curmudgeon who has a permanent 'column' in this paper. It made for great reading for all the local yokels who would never read it otherwise: citizen Raindog vs. The Fourth Estate (film at eleven). This was lauded as a public relations coup, imagine: Free Publicity! But at what cost? Heinous acts get a lot of press time, too, what does that say about our priorities? Ooooooh, bloodsport....!
I’m just wondering when it became a crime to be a writer of the non-lyrical poetry? Whitman, in his day, was judged by his lifestyle AND his poetry style. Now, he is judged on the strength of his words, alone. The benefit of nostalgia? In the ‘90s, Poets and the writers of poetry are judged, not on the power of their words, alone, but also on the presupposition of their lifestyle, their sexuality, their race and their alignment to a specific school or style of poetry. We are slipping backwards so fast that it’s only a matter of time before some spin doctor will call it accelerated progress in a different direction!
As for me? I work hard for my money. I’ve got the bad knees, back and hearing to prove I’ve served my time doing the manual labor tango. My reputation as a handy man is built on reliability, attention to details, and conscientiousness. I don’t understand this crazy world that relies on sham and artifice. It really disgusts me that there is so much garbage and B.S. between point A and point B... so much crap that one must avoid stepping in just to do what you believe is right. Am I crazy? Am I so out of touch with reality?
The View From Down Here by Raindog (Oct. 1997)
I’ve been struggling for weeks (days?) to come up with the essay for this next issue.
I wanted to write about the recent deaths of two great humanitarians, which disturbed me as much as it did you. What disturbed me the most was the value placed on their respective lives by the way each of their deaths were mourned. I tried to write a thought-provoking essay on the irony of it all, but all I could do was write about my anger. It is an anger that goes far deeper than this little mess, far deeper than recriminations about who did what to whom or who’s legally responsible; deeper still than any of the drama of the death of the “people’s Princess” versus the non-drama of the death of Mother Theresa.
Both Diana and Mother Theresa, as a friend of mine pointed out, have come to represent the female archetype, the anima (for those of you who’re Jung at heart) of the world: compassionate, wise, strong yet loving, protector of the weak and infirm. What separates them is that the younger, more beautiful (on the surface), was, of course, more SEXY, more glamorous. Ultimately, she was more exciting. I mean, get serious, who looked better in an evening gown by Versace? Who hob-knobbed with the rich and famous? Who’s life was a media circus of (not always so) carefully arranged photo-ops? Who took on THE Royal family? We love glamour and glitz. We expect it to be meteoric, up AND down... comedy and then tragedy. That’s entertainment! Old ain’t where it’s at (unless you survive a series of disasters, especially self-inflicted), it’s got to be NEW, FRESH, NOW-WOW! “This year’s model (of ANYTHING) is totally different than last year!”
What I wanted to write about was how the “civilized” world is obsessed with glamour and the cult of personality; preoccupied with acts of heroism, yet oblivious to the everyday heroism performed by those on a path of conscious action. An activist’s life. I’m not just talking about putting yourself between the whale and the harpooner or chaining yourself to a tree, either. It’s the old ‘live simply so others may simply live!’ ideal; what the Peace Corps is still about, but you don’t hear much about that anymore, either. Because everywhere you turn these daze, it seems, you are assaulted with images of the western world’s fascination with voyeurism disguised as entertainment. It’s almost like you will turn on your TV someday soon and see some actor saying; “I’m not you, but I play you on TV!” Everywhere you turn, the siren’s song calls to you: ‘come here, come here’; come read this tabloid, this newspaper, this unauthorized expose; come watch this TV show, this computer monitor, this action movie; come listen to this shock jock, this hate monger, this brand of music.
We take an inactive, yet crucial role in encouraging this hunger to satisfy “the need to know.” There isn’t so much money involved in the market for “candid” photos, films, reports because someone happens to have a lot of cash to spread around (although there are some, I suppose, who DO spread it around - just not in my general direction). This industry is supported by the “little guy” just as much as the big guys. You and I, the grunts in the trenches of life, we buy the crap that’s being sold. Maybe we buy it because it distracts us from our, otherwise, drab existence. Maybe we buy it because we don’t want to see the rut we live in (nice tuck n’ roll!); thinking that we’ve got it made ‘cause we’re _____________ (fill-in the blank). Maybe we buy it because we’re stupid! My guess is it’s seventy percent the latter.
Can we do something about our stupidity? Is there a “program” or some smart person we can turn to for guidance? Is there a detox center for the cult of personality? Has this got anything to do with creativity, the theme of this little magazine? You betcha! It’s time for the Arts to stand up and retake an active role in the inspiration of the planet. It’s time for the artist to point the way, to inspire, to lead us back on track. It’s time to roll up our collective sleeves and clean this place, we claim to love, up. I’ve got a shovel. So let’s get to it.
THE SEX ISSUE
The View From Down Here by Raindog (Nov. 1997)
“What’s the ugliest part of your body? Some say your nose, some say your toes, but I think it’s your mind, I think it’s your mind.” -Frank Zappa from the 1966 album FREAKOUT
This morning I watched as Sam Rubin, an entertainment reporter for local TV station, KTLA, got very excited while interviewing an actress who portrayed ‘Marsha’ on the old sitcom, The Brady Bunch. Apparently, there was some “controversy” about a rumored attraction between her character and the character of ‘Jan’. Rubin became more and more animated as he pictured them sampling the forbidden fruit. As if a kiss would be so very controversial. Well, it was for Roseanne, and Ellen. But what’s the big deal? Don’t men love to watch women “doing it”? Isn’t sex the vehicle that sells EVERYTHING? Isn’t it on everyone’s minds almost all the time? Survey says: YES!
For the rest of the animal kingdom it’s merely a procreative function, there’s even a season for it: the rutting season. For humans, sex is fun, bringing new meaning, I suppose, to the expression “I’m in a rut”. And what a glorious rut it is! It’s ironic that in our supposedly repressive society, sex is pandemic! It’s everywhere: on billboards, on buildings, on TV, in movies, on CDs, in books, in zines, in schools, in the government; it’s power, it’s controversy, it’s the new (or old) god! It’s natural; everyone does it! Well, maybe not everyone. But most of your healthy folks do. The average American male thinks about sex some two hundred times per day, so the statistics tell us. The average female, being more practical, thinks about it about half that amount (tho rumor has it that they have quality thoughts). I personally think about sex almost every waking moment. It’s INNUENDO AND OUT THE OTHER with me. I’m a walking hormone. My appetite for sex is voracious, always has been. But lately, since I began visiting the various porno sites on the internet, I’ve come (no pun intended -- see what I mean) to see that a lot of what passes for sex is really just a distraction. And what on earth would we need a distraction as powerful as sex for, you ask? Gee, I dunno. Pain? Fear? Hunger? Desire to be in top form, able to handle any situation, or satisfy the needs of our partners or ourselves? Sex is a high stakes game and, boy, do we have a lot riding on it!
But, why? What’s the big deal? Why the furious fixation? Aren’t we running the risk of being destroyed by our rabid obsession with ‘the old in and out’? STDs, AIDS, domestic violence, perversion, experimentation, drug abuse, murder and mayhem, the corruption of our souls, of the American way of life, aren’t these all by-products of our love-hate relationship to this drive? In this issue of The LUMMOX Journal, the thorny (horny?) issues of sex are explored by Frank Moore, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Cecilia Tan and Carol Queen. They bring to light a sex-positive viewpoint, a pro (if you will) creative view of sex. So join us now as we explore the wild & wacky world of... S E X
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