Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Healthy Living, D. C. style

We just got back from Washington D. C. One of the big differences between D. C. and the Southern towns I've lived in is that hardly anyone in The District is overweight. It's not hard to figure out why. Let's compare the average day of, say, a person from my town to that of a typical D. C. person.

A person from around here gets to work by getting in the truck and driving there. Then goes to lunch (BBQ or burgers) by getting in the truck and driving there. Then goes shopping by... getting in the truck, driving to Wal-Mart, HEAVING his/her bulk out of the cab, maybe waddling a block or two during the whole shopping expedition, then getting back in the truck, driving home, parking the truck in the yard by the front door for minimum walking.

Compare this to a D. C. resident. Our D. C. person leaves home, walks a few blocks to the Metro, moves quickly and efficiently through the rushing crowd, hops the right train, takes a breather for a few stops, hops out, catches the next train, hops out, walks a few more blocks to the front of The White House, one-handedly HOISTS and SUSTAINS a large sign reading

"Who destroyed Pentagon on 9-11?

Barack Obama

Saddam Hussain

Marion Barry

in Crack Cocaine Conspiracy with Zionist Jew Israelite Homosexual

Child Sex Slavery for Hillary Clinton Reptoid Jew Homosexual"

for the rest of the day. Beaming with vitality, the picture of health.

So get in step, Southerners! Move around a little.

(I'm scared to see what kind of Google hits I'm gonna get from that sign)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Cafe Guy

Hi. I wrote the following as an entry in NPR's Three Minute Fiction Contest. Obviously I didn't win, no doubt in part because they figured out that this was little more than a non-fiction blogpost. Enjoy!

The Cafe Guy, by Aaron White.

You might think that hanging in a cafe all day every day would be an enviable lifestyle, but his face was never not scowling. He never had company; no one ever sat or spoke with him. He always had a copy of the free weekly paper open on his table, but I never saw him reading it. He preferred to gaze levelly out the window, sitting sullenly in the cafe, all day long.

The preacher of my hometown church often admonished the congregation, "You may be the only contact someone has with Christ today," and while my religious beliefs had undergone a pronounced shift since I last heard that warning, I still believed I had a responsibility to reach out to others. I was a regular at the cafe myself, and whenever I saw the cafe guy I felt a twinge of guilt for letting him sit there in his glowering loneliness. Maybe I lacked gumption. Maybe I lacked love. Maybe I was uneasy about giving an opening into my life to such a sour person. Whatever the reasons, I never spoke to him. The occasional fleeting smile was all he got from me. He always feigned not to notice.

I assumed he would always be alone in the cafe. But one day, to my astonishment, he was sitting with another guy; a large, soft man with earnest open eyes. The large man seemed to be pleading his case.

"I'm sorry you feel that way," said the large man. "I think your ideas are incredible; I think you're a genius. But if that's the way you feel, I suppose I'll leave you alone."

The two of them went outside and sat at a sidewalk table while the cafe guy smoked. I saw but couldn't hear the large man continue to plead with the impassive cafe guy. Finally the large man left. The cafe guy remained, sipping his coffee and staring into the middle distance.

Soon thereafter the cafe was bought out and turned into something other than a cafe. I switched to another restaurant across the way; one that turned out to have better coffee anyway.

The cafe guy switched to my new restaurant too. I thought I had a greater claim to it since I bought food there as well as coffee, while he only ever got coffee. I was peeved with him for hanging out at my new spot without ever sampling the excellent menu. At the old place he had been the cafe guy, but he was never the restaurant guy. He was just a guy who never got any food, and never looked happy. I no longer felt guilty for not speaking to him; he really ought to have tried the salad sampler.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Another story about carpet cleaning

Back around 1999, when I was cleaning carpet, I was told to go, solo, to Sylacauga, a town about an hour from our home base. I wasn't thrilled, but I never was. So okay, off I went, the sun going down as I drove to this area I'd never seen before. The customer was a mild woman with an interesting house. Most of it was one large open room with furniture groupings and screens creating a sense of discrete locations. A bedroom, kitchen and bathroom were behind doors. I was impressed by the way it combined openness with intimacy in the little clusters of furnishing. It seemed she lived alone but was accustomed to company. The whole area was carpeted, and with the customer helping I moved every single bit of furniture in order to clean every bit of floor. It went pretty smoothly. Then it was time to put the furniture back, with plastic under to prevent any residue from the chair legs and such staining the wet carpet.

The customer was very particular about putting it all back in order. She couldn't remember how it all went, though. She wanted to put every bit of furniture back just so, but how was just so? Every chair, every sofa, every pole lamp, every screen, we had to agonize about just exactly where to place it. With few walls, corners or other fixed landmarks, she was unsure exactly how to line everything back up on the original floor plan. I didn't have the gumption to suggest we simply put the furniture any which way, and she could fix it at her leisure after the carpet was dry and I was home showering off the work day. And so putting the furniture back took far, far longer than the cleaning.

Once it was done she offered to lead me to the main highway, she in her car, me in my truck. Since it was dark and we didn't have GPSs (only a big mapbook) I eagerly accepted. I had found my way there but didn't relish trying to get back alone in the dark. That far from base my radio wouldn't reach the base, and I didn't have anything remotely resembling a cel phone, so I felt totally alone out there aside from my infuriating but genial customer.

Following the red of her taillights, I saw another reddish light flickering through the trees. Soon, despite the darkness all around, it seemed as if some small localized sun was still above some small localized horizon.

A house was on fire. Not just a bit of smoke or flame out a window, but the whole building, a residential bonfire. I'd never been so close to such a conflagration before. not far past it was the main highway. The customer turned back and drove homeward. I had a peculiar desire to discuss the fire with her, but of course our involvement with one another was over.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Dud in the Race

We saw a documentary called Blood in the Face last night. It's a 1991 record of a white supremist convention where they get together in a farmhouse or something, cosplay, and rile each other up with hectoring rhetoric and bogus scholarship about race issues. The thing I found most unsettling about the conventioneers (bearing in mind that many of them were leaders in the white supremacy field) is how superficially normal they seemed. I mean, they were foolish hicks with awful ideas, self-bamboozled with less than rigorous arguments, but if they were to take off the swastikas and keep their hate in their pants they wouldn't seem that different from any number of folks you'll see at the mall. There's a lot of addlepated overweight white people around who are perfectly fine people, many of whom despise racism and bigotry, and I was uneasy about how easily the hardened haters could blend in. I'm more used to the Klan kids I rode with in the bus down Signal Mountain TN every day as a high schooler.

Man, some of those kids were proud, outspoken children of Klansman, and they really wore their white inferiority up front. Faces like Halloween masks. Second and third chins, but no first chins. Adam's apples like whiskery fists. I can't help but feel pity for these products of multigenerational malnutrition and, shall we say, bloodline purity, but is it any wonder The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is such a therapeutic film for me?

Our neighborhood was a well-to-do suburb, but we weren't that far from Byron de la Beckwith, the infamous killer Klansman, who once told an interviewer that he joined the Klan because he applied for membership in every club in town, and The Klan took him (I heard it on Fresh Air (that's as close to sourcing as I get)). Maybe if The Elks or somebody had taken Beckwith it would have turned out better for everyone (except maybe The Elks).

Anyway, the haters in the film are very big on rhetoric and logic that isn't really any less connected to reality than a lot of other ideas that float around, which is pretty troubling. One woman talks about how she didn't get into the racist scene because of hate (she draws a strong distinction between separatism and hate) but because she started going to a white supremist church and picked up the ideas in pretty much the same haphazard way she might have picked up any other batch of ideas if she'd ended up at a different church. She seems harmless, but it turns out her man killed an outspoken Jewish radio jock, so her apparent mildness allowed her to play a dumbed-down Camilla to her Nazi Tony (I actually feel bad comparing The Sopranos to these mooks, but the pattern of self-deluding enabling is similar). Another guy talks about his life from childhood, and it's evident that he's led a hard life with little real parental/moral guidance. And now he dresses up in Nazi bricabrac.

One of my favorite bits is when all the preachers and such are hanging out and one guy who's crazy about pop eyed biblical numerology starts going on a complicated spiel about how numbers in the Bible prove The Race War is immanent (it must be solid logic: it's got math in it!) and the other preachers' expressions go from patient, to trying-to-be-patient, to disgusted. The two most comforting things in the film for me are that

1. not that many people were at the convention, and

2. The finest minds in the White Supremist leadership are dumb guys. Not unusually dumb, though. It gets down to George Carlin's dictum that (paraphrased for delicacy's sake) there's a distinction between being stupid, being full of it, and being nuts. Racists are all three.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Muse Shift

Where've I been?

Suffice it to say that I'm starting a serious new writing regimen, with professional aspirations. Currently, this means slamming the theatre door. No more theatre. I feel strangely elated; I've always been a homebody at heart, so staying chained to my desk makes more sense for me than trekking all over for elusive performance opportunities. Furthermore, all the ailments of the writer's life (uncertainty, loneliness, self-doubt, blindness, agony, spiritual rot, drunken fits) are already with me, so what's to lose?

Rest assured that I am wrestling with numerous literary angels (currently on the docket: Fitzgerald!) in an effort to win their wounds and their blessings. The slapdash writing in evidence on this blog isn't going to be sufficient. New growth begins now.