Wednesday, November 12, 2008

"Fattening Frogs for Snakes"

The Blues contains a fair amount of folk wisdom, but the genesis of this song I could never fathom. Unless it refers to cultivating amphibians as a food source for reptiles. (I will gladly entertain, and would be most grateful for, any other theories.) No matter that, at first hearing, I found Howlin' Wolf so howlingly funny, I ran this groove through the bottom of my pitiful portable picnic player; it's purpose here is solely as an illustration (because--honestly--I can't think of any PICTURES to go with this post!) of something (i.e., every song from Charley Patton to Muddy Waters that may or may not refer to life in the Mississippi River delta) that was once understood by persons of particular geographical region, but is now a subject only fit for anthropologists. In general, this kind of disconnect between objects and subjects, forms and usages, occurs when the tradition from which it emerged has become something of an atrophied limb on the Tree of Man; one no longer a-budding and bearing fruit on the vine. Interpretation then requires an interpolation of facts with respect to its place of origin and historical era, socio-religious background, etc. Beyond that, you end up in the area of enlightened (or un-) guesswork, such as the above, if you want to reproduce the juice.

And why? What is it about folk wisdom (a/k/a: tribal lore) that makes it worth our time? Because what we were can teach us much about who we are today and what we are likely to become. Thing is, most people get a little irked when you start mucking about in their ancient burial grounds, and even testier when, say, you finally crack some scroll codes you find these precious relics were clay tablet 1040s. (See? Always be prepared for an audit!) Start to suggest their ancestors weren't all noble kings, priestesses, and great warlords and--lookout! Nobody wants to be descended from hack politicians, snake-oil salesmen, manure schleppers and charalatans. So, if you're going to get guff from digging up the past (not to mention the cost) there are still vast repositories of such ethnological lore to be found in among a variety religious practices, especially those with diligent scribes and roots going back well before what we refer to today as Western Civilization.

To find contempo corollaries of clan, kith and kin, one need only take a survey of headlines to uncover the subject of coverings. In my city, in my neighborhood even, the obvious is everywhere. On the street, Islamic headscarves and robes (even chadors!) for women are signs of chastity and modesty, but also reflect a practical concern: to guard against theft of breeding stock. Too callous? Not enough respect for the Almighty? Nope! The key word is "practical", as in "habit and practice" (a term of art in the legal world). This is not completely dissimilar to the rebbe parade and schmatta regatta of Williamsburg and King's Highway. When you look at those guys in the beaver hats, morning coats and white puttees, ever wonder why they don't have black hats like the Lubavitch? To payess or not to payess? It all comes back to what a particular theological theorist wore way back in the sheytl/ghetto when his sect split off from another. What you are seeing are fashion victims--albeit from previous centuries. It's just like mama said: you get judged by the company you keep. And it ain't just 7th Avenue, baby. Examine that in light of the cliques of today (hip hop, neo-Rasta, Neo-Cons, retro, etc.) and it gets even more obvious: You Are What You Wear.

Which, conversely and perversely, also must include the olde maxim of "De Gustibus Non Disputandem"--which has been given as a close reading of "There is no arguing with a customer" as much as "There's no accounting for taste"--in the discussion, along with "one man's meat is another man's poison". As much as the meal above-captioned might as well refer to a human appetite for the delicacy of the jumpers' legs en brochette, or a dish similar to smoked eel made from the primal tubesteak, we may enjoy these recipes in retrospect or re-creation, but is a rare thing indeed when one's own peculiar humors translate into the broader weal of the commons.

Like, why I find such things so revelatory...not to mention god-damned, funny/weird.

The funny-weird part is when, amid praise-songs for deity-of-choice, a fair amount of diet-of-choice will also be interjected. Of course, we realize, today, that such prohibitions were to avoid such things as salmonella, trichinosis, dysentery, rickets, and other odd-named ailments, as much "Rx" as recipe. The other provisos were a bit trickier, as in tryck-ier, as in Wikka-ier, as in white magyck and medicine man/shaman-type rituals disguised as advice from on high and prescriptions that read like performance art stage directions.

This is why I maintain that any religion which maintains these traditions in their 'gospel' (or whatever they keep as scripture/sacred text, worthy of counsel and advice) has got to be a bit verklempt. This is not a sudden revelation on my part, but, having recently stumbled on (nah, you don't want to know how) just such a Talmud (rabbinical commentaries on the Torah) section (specifically the Mishna and the Gemara, specifically the Babylonian treatises, and specifically within that the Gittin, 68b and 69a), I have found a further belief that true believers know no editors. You want to say "you can't make this stuff up", but what really mean is: "who'd write this stuff down?"...and why.

Mind you, this is NOT the "word" from YHWH as much as the aforementioned lore placed among the regular scroll studies as a viable subject for kabbalah-level scrutiny. Which should tell you a lot. What follows is verbatum, given the fact that I cannot reproduce Hebrew fonts. The only addition from this end are the upper-case notations at the end of the paragraphs with first reactions.

The Gemara now returns to its presentation, begun at the beginning of it is chapter (6th), of the remedies to various conditions. The discussion is arranged according to parts of the body, from the head downward:

For blood of the head: Bring boxwood, willow, fresh myrtle, olive, poplar, cloves and yivla and boil them together, then pour three hundred cups of the mixture on this side of the head, and three hundred cups of it on that side of head. THIS IS THE STANDARD PRESCRIPTION

An alternative remedy:
If not, bring a white rose [whose leaves] all stand in one row ¬and boil it. Then pour sixty cups of the resulting liquid on this side of the head and sixty cups on that side of the head. THIS IS ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE

Another head ailment:
For a migraine headache: Bring a wild cock and slaughter it with a sharpened zuz coin of pure silver over that side of the head which aches, so that the blood trickles down the side of the head. However, one must beware that the blood not blind one' eyes. Then, hang [the slaughtered cock] on the doorpost of the patient’s house, so that when he enters he brushes against it and when he exits he brushes against it. NOT EXACTLY WAVING A DEAD CHICKEN OVER IT, BUT CLOSE ENOUGH

The Gemara turns to afflictions of the eye:
For cataracts: Bring a scorpion that is spotted with seven colors. Dry it out in the shade, grind it and make a powder consisting of two parts antimony and one art ground scorpion] Then, apply three doses of the powder to this eye and three doses to that eye. One must beware not to apply more than three doses to the eye, because if one does not beware of this, his eye may burst. THIS IS A PRODUCT LABEL WARNING

[below, an explanation of method]
Literally: fill three applicators in this eye. Applicators for eye-powder were generally made of a bird's feather, or a thin wooden receptacle ONLY USE AS DIRECTED BY MANUFACTURER

For night blindness, one should bring a rope of animal hair and tie one of his own legs to the end of the rope and one leg of a dog to the other end of the rope. Then, children should rattle pottery shards behind him, and they should say to him the following Incantation: “Old dog mad hen” He should then collect seven pieces of raw meat from seven houses [each homeowner] should give him [the meat] in the doorway of his home. And he should eat [the meat] by the city dumps. Afterward, he should remove the animal-hair rope from his leg and they should say the following incantation: “Blindness of so-and-so, son of the woman so-and-so. Leave so-and-so, son of the woman so-and-so.” Finally, they should blow into the pupil of the dog's eye.THIS PRODUCT WAS TESTED IN CONTROLLED CONDITIONS ON LABORATORY ANIMALS.

For daytime blindness: Bring seven spleens from the insides of freshly slaughtered animals and roast them on a bloodletter's shard [repugnant earthenware vessel that a bloodletter uses to collect the blood that he draws]. Then, [the blind man] should sit inside a house and another person, whose vision is good, should sit outside, and the blind man should say to him: “Give me the spleens to eat” and the other one, who sees, should say to him: “Take, eat.” After he eats, he should break the bloodletter's shard, because if he does not, [the blindness] may return to him. THE "EAT, EAT, YOU'RE SO SKINNY"-VALLEY-OF-THE-ULTRA-YENTAS VERSION(PROBABLY INTERCHANGEABLE WITH CHICKEN SOUP).

The Gemara moves on to ailments associated with the nasal and oral cavities:

For nosebleed: One should bring a man who is a Kohen and whose name is Levi and he should write the name Levi backwards for him. If not, he should bring any man and he should write for him the incantation: “I Papi Shila bar Sumki” backwards. If not, let him write for him the following incantation: "The taste of a bucket in silver water, the taste of a bucket in tainted water." WOULD GEORGE M. COHAN WORK AS LONG AS HE CHANGED HIS NAME? AND IS THAT 'BACKWARDS' OR 'IN REVERSE'?

Another type of remedy for a nosebleed:
If not, one should bring the root of a stalk of aspasta [Aspasta is a type of plant which was usually used for animal fodder], the rope of an old bed, rag-paper, saffron and the red part of a palm branch, and burn them together until they turn to ash. Then, he should bring a ball of wool, and twist the fiber to form two strands, immerse the strands in vinegar and roll them in these ashes so that the ash adheres to them, and insert one strand in each of his nostrils.SEE BELOW

Yet another remedy for nosebleed:
If not, one should find a canal that flows from east toward west, step over it and stand with one foot on this side of the stream and one foot on that side of it. Then, he should take mud with his right hand from beneath his left foot and with his left hand from beneath his right foot, twist two strands of wool, immerse them in the mud and insert one of them in each of his nostrils.SHOVING THINGS UP YOUR NOSE SEEMS LIKE A GOOD IDEA, IN THIS CASE

A final remedy:
If not, one should sit beneath a water spout and [others] should bring water, pour it on him through the spout and say the following: “Just as these waters stop, so too should the blood of so-and-so son of the woman so-and-so stop.” SYMPATHETIC MAGIC

[Although the incantation has no medical explanation, the shower of cold water is recommended in various sources as a remedy for nose-bleed (Biblical and Talmudic Medicine 9:3). [Apparently, the water is poured through a spout simply to make it shower down on the patient.]] NOTE: COMMENTARY ON THE COMMENTARY ON THE COMMENTARY. SOMEONE SHOULD MAKE A PRESCRIPTION INVOLVING SPLITTING HAIRS.

An ailment of the oral cavity:
For bleeding from the mouth, [the patient] is to be tested with a straw of wheat. If [the blood] sticks to the straw, it is coming from the lungs and thus, there is a remedy for it. But if the blood does not stick to the straw, it is coming from the liver and there is no remedy for it. ALSO BE A TEST FOR PASTA AL DENTE.

The Gemara digresses and focuses on the premise that blood from the liver is more serious than blood from the lungs:

Rav Ami said to Rav Ashi: But we learned the opposite in a Mishnah, for a—“

Here's where it goes on, but why bother? Ok. So what's the big deal? It's not like its Scientology or anything? (Well, actually, yeah--it kind of is.) You have to ask yourself that question, and the reply would go something like: Hey! Nobody's getting hurt here. And the Christian Scientists don't even bother with proscribed rituals as much as faith in the healing powers of prayer... Which brings up the following; a short note on the text by the official historian (I guess) who assembled the English-language version. Apparently, Hezekiah, a king of Judah, removed this from circulation as he sensed that ill people tended to rely exclusively on these remedies rather than prayer! And this deed was considered VIRTUOUS by the sages of his time! Also citing a further reason not to pay that much attention to them is that "since Talmudic times, these therapies, which were efficacious in those time are not necessarily so nowadays..."

And just what part of "The taste of a bucket in silver water, the taste of a bucket in tainted water" was "efficacious in those time(s)" and "[is] not necessarily so nowadays"?

I don't know, but something about the withdrawal of these potions and witchcraft seems even more sinister than keeping them under the tab for hot topics in the 21st century. Maybe it's just me. However, it does go a long way to explaining the kind of "magical thinking" prevalent among true believers, on the same plane with the fact that all the 9/11 hijackers were purported to have spent their last night before at a discotheque...and were of the firm opinion that 89 virgins (or so) awaited them in Paradise. Also, examine the social lives of the class of disaffected Moroccan youth in Holland, from whose ranks came kid who killed Theo Van Gogh for making an anti-Islamic movie, and you'll find that when similar aspirations of getting a date on Saturday night are thwarted, its an easy path straight to the extremist mosque. Ever wonder what makes fanatic commandos out of Bollywood-bes? (You may note the last locution tending towards a reference of the Mumbai incident. See, this is not faith-specific, only offered--like the aforesaid excerpt from the Wolf--as an object lesson. The thinking here is more along the lines of Jonathan Swift's Yahoos as opposed to just the Yehudin.) They see the same banquet of life that Auntie Mame talked about, and they really ARE starving to death. Which is how we get martyrs out of horny, easily-deluded teenagers: if you learn to swallow enough half-truths, a fantasy will taste no different.

Which brings us back about to the subject of cuisine as well. While I consider myself more health-conscious than my friend Ed, over at, he lives on junk food that would shame a long-haul trucker, but is constantly chiding me every time I mention a homeopathic solution to a sniffle or a fever. "You should take more Pills! Pills are something you can place a LOT of faith in!"

A BeatGen/Hippie saying was "You are what you eat," and I guess there's still some circulation on that axiom, mostly with reference to calorie counts dictated by pamphlets picked up in the checkout line. As for Ed? I can only put his lack of toxic effects from this consumption of chemical representations of edibles down to a metabolism so high hummingbirds would appear as sluggish butterflies. One would then suppose it isn't so much as what you take in as how you process it...out. Overall, then, organic is fine, just so long as it doesn't lead to the kind of ascetic self-absorption where holistic roots doctors and "chi" energy-flow specialists start charting yer chakras.

There's a lot to be said for preservatives, BHA, BHT, ascorbic acid, and Red No. 2 least by Ed. And yes, avoid old wives tales, feudal belief systems and regimens, and be as skeptical as you like about other people telling you what's good for you. So here's to another, now-rather-ironical slogan of a previous generation:

"Better Living Through Chemistry"!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

heavy traffic on purgatory road

"...snarlers, growlers, coughers, rumblers, roarers, rushers, whooshers, garglers..." This is the involuntary mutter of in the mind of a naturalist living in a contemporary urban environment. Not as much "Welcome To The Jungle" as "Yo! Grindcore!" The scientist within then, perforce, will have an impulse to classify automobiles, buses and trucks as distinct species (rather than a family or genera) and ordering their auditory according to engines/transmissions and/or exhaust systems. Morning calls are the most noticeable, greeting one with their full-throated throttlesong, tapitts a-rattle, gears-jamming--not all that different from their avian brethren,but more of a rookery chorus than individual songs or calls.

Audubon does the Autobahn.

Someone might wonder at the stretch required to connect the organic world to post-industrial production line models, but that person probably never gets out of the apartment. Especially not mine. Especially not that tenuous, first foray out the front door and down to the streets of concrete, the canyons of brick and glass. Hard, clean surfaces not only reflect sound waves, they amplify them; you might as well try hiding from a clapper inside the bell.

Most residents just let it slide, this tide, but a cacophony tsunami, for a select few, is just that physical, to the degree of interfering with one's ability to hold onto a patch of sidewalk, in order not to be swept away. Back in the 1960s, when the first supersonic aircraft were put into the air, as we lived not far from a USAF base, every now and then you'd hear the "BOOM!" and the realization would hit you that a jet had passed over you a few seconds before and this was the impact of its wake. That was my awakening to the fact that invisible forces are spilling over into our lives constantly.

Pretty melodramatic, isn't it?

Now as for the rush hour grind of gears? Why would anyone write about such a petty subject? That's the first question. The second is more complex, such as: If it bothers you that much, why not just tune into the iPod like everyone else?

That complaint comes WITH the iPod on. (And don't get me started on the Lexington line at Union Square.)

But, suddenly, and again as the result of indiscrimate browsing, I recalled another fascinating list, also discovered from that very same post quote in my post from October (?), appended here without attribution:

"My order of delusional goes like this (it is also the order of ‘emotionals’ by sheer coincidence):

Manic Depressives
Religiously Devout
Normal People in Love
Happy People
Depressed People

One has to wonder if the blogger who put this up was, in point of fact, getting his source from someplace authoritative. For one thing: Manic Depressives? The theraputic designation these days is "Bipolar." Also the "order of emotionals" doesn't exactly make sense to me, going from Happy to Depressed in the middle with Schizophrenics and Psychopaths at either end. If you are not going to include garden variety Neurotics and Sociopaths, then where are you drawing the line, and how do you classify? Speaking technically, Sociopaths might be deleted due to the fact that they are so dissociative and removed from "emotional" mechanisms that they might not be open for consideration. However, your Woody Allen-type Neurotic is an industry standard that they should at the very least be placed between the Happy and the Depressed, if only to add a gradation.

One then must conclude that it was manufactured merely to be able to place "Neocons" among traits of personality disorders...which I don't necessarily disagree with, per se; so, nevertheless, this list is very attractive. But why would I want to try to match the two together? What purpose could there be? What profit in it?

It is obviously, the Naturalist impulse. We observe things in our environment and then try to order them. The question then must be: Why? You don't have to be some kind of university-trained scientist to do this, or to even WANT to do this. The term "naturalist" says it all: you simply watch things and take notes, and patterns emerge. Then, publish. And anyone who has seen the two buttons on this service will know how easy that is. The sole reason one does this sort of thing might even be put down to that primal impulse. Kinda puts you on the same level as Steven Jay Gould. Kinda. Ok, not really. But no worse off than some of the dreck that shows up in the papers disguised as "journalism" or "critical review".

Then, consider this map as a "sort of" list. Admittedly, it is copped from the Times, so if this is copyright infringement, so be it--but I have an agenda greater than appropriation of intellectual property for profit. First and foremost, it must be noted that they have chosen a pastel motif. This cannot be too strongly emphasized. It only occurred to me after having as my desktop background for days. As I had long ago discarded the article, I cannot say with certainty that the author does indeed make mention of this, nor that it could be attributed to a choice by the editor or even the artist. However, seeing as it was the Week In Review section, I doubt that demographic data as aesthetics is given much weight.

What you see is county-by-county voting in the most recent election, colored-coded along the lines of the hyped-up war between Liberal Democrats and Conservative Republicans. And I know this even without the accompanying article since I saw John King on CNN playing with his 'magic wall' like he was Tom Cruise in "Minority Report." And even though he'd randomly switch colors on 'reporting precincts' in order to make his devil's advocate positions, he'd switch them right back so nobody got the wrong idea that he was promoting one side or the other. But all this did was create a dazzling number of opportunities for people to see their districts flip-flopping worse than the chosen footgear of boardwalkers at Coney Island.

With that in mind, I have taken my trusty photoshop in hand and, with the same liberties (well, similar) as Mr. King, have found the following image within the data.

Ok. So not the DATA, itself, but more the aesthetic. Simply, I increased the contrast a lot and then increased the brightness. Easy as pie. The reason? I wanted to see the world the way the hysterical journos do: EXTREME! And here it is! Take away the obvious Arizona vote for their "Favorite Son candidate" (which is what he would have been if the election process were more about substance and less about hype) and what yet see is the Bible Belt vs. the Progressives. Couldn't be clearer, right?--that little Nike swoosh of red, outlined in a thin nimbus, before smashing into the overwhelm of blue-gray.

Television commentators will go straight for the jugular: BLUE BEATS RED! Their whole justification for such conclusions being little more than finding something to put between commercial breaks. They HAVE TO make HEADLINES THAT SHOUT! This is a lot of what is wrong with America: we shout too much. If that seems to echo something else said here, that was because it was supposed to. (Motif, leitmotif, theme & variation, sequential argument--same tricks, nuttin' fancy.) In the competition for our attention, there can be no second place. But life is not, I'm sorry to say, all that dramatic.

There is no mention of the Victory of White.

(Dramatic pause for the hushed intake of breath for possible expression of articulate bigotry.)

White is, above all, in this picture, in all paintings, lighting for movies--whatever--neutral. It is NOT "The Silent Majority". It is NOT Soccer Moms and NASCAR Dads. It is NOT "Fear of a Black Planet." (You knew there was hip-hop before gangsta, didn't you?)

It is, in point of fact, a toner. Some may not realize this since the only 'toners' they are in regular contact with are printer ink cartridges. CMYK, right? Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and K stands for Black (for some obscure reason to do with professional lithography, I vaguely recall). So where's the white? It's the paper, of course. When you start at neutral, it is easy to forget what the colors are on (except Cezanne, who liked a lot of blank canvass at the end, and was either so nuanced that he figured he didn't need to put in what was already there...or was so cheap he didn't want to buy more titanium). It may be more startling to paint on black (velvet, at least, when doing portraiture of Elvis or Jesus or Keane Kids), but it takes a LOT more paint too. (cf. Cezanne above)

(You are invited to click on any of the images for a larger picture. I believe that will open the jpg in another window of your browser. It is not so much for the detail work as to get a better gestalt, ja?)

Back to that first foray out the front door. This is about as close as one can come to a "naturalist" perspective on demographics. The whole idea of the naturalist is nothing more than a person who sees things and renders them down to results and interprets repeated patterns as some kind of law of nature. (Gad. I hate using the same terms over and over, but it can't be helped. Nothing else for it.) And one technique is to take lists of traits, habits, etc., and compare them across species (or disciplines) until some sort of general statement can be made.

The one victory that is not spoken about is neutrality. (I would like to add a sidebar here from Nassim Nicholas Taleb's "The Black Swan" about negative evidence and its manifestation as "invisible forces", then move on to Dark Matter, but...)

So let's go for another cliche, eh? Using terms like "dawn of a new day" may seem more apt to entitle some mid-70's fusion jazz-rock album than a description of the 21st century socio-political sphere, yet there are few that would argue an augury is not among us...and that is the prime conclusion from this version of the map. For this, I bumped up the brightness and brought down the contrast, so the picture (colors) is exactly what the previous sentence is saying (words). It is also something of an acknowledgment that, for the first time in a long time, the old strophe of "we're all in the same boat" reaalllly seem apropos, no?

This is what happens when you 'tone-down' the rhetoric and 'tone-up' the picture. (See? That's just what SJG would have said. Told you it wasn't hard.) And, yes, I could have made it more extreme, but that would defeat the point. All I did was nudge the values a bit. So even if that's all that happens to the nation in the next few years, it will be a whole lot better for it. Maybe not as profitable for the top 10% of gross incomes, but a lot less miserable for the bottom 50%. An economic boom wouldn't be bad, so long as it doesn't mean more sonic boom shocks of US vs. Them.

As a previous post made mention of Purple, I feel that this is the juncture at which we should give equal time to pastels as well. Lavender is nice. Not a big fan of Pink, I must say.

And that's about as Red State/Blue State as I'm going to get for a while, I hope.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

DATELINE: Doylestown, PA - 1681: the origin of the "Two Americas" legend...

The Bluestockings of Wm Penn and the Lenape, a tribe of Rednecks led by Chief Joe the Plumber, were in dispute over who grew the corn and who got to trade it on the Futures Exchange. After getting the short end of the stalk for decades, the locals joined the E.U.and began stealing lawn signs, trash talking and suppressing voter turnout. This led to the French & Indian War, in 1754, which raged throughout the rule of Mad King George, causing pundit skirmishes on all major networks, as well as basic cable. In the end, the Redneck's apoplexy turned them cyanotic and the Blue Sox scandals opened up enough old wounds that they bled to death. The "peaceable kingdom" was finally established when the Black Prince ascended the throne and began his Purple Reign.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Trick Or Treat

Halloween, coming as it does, just before Election Day, makes for a strange contrast between the political process and a belief in legends and myths, a love of history and gothic horror stories, and the fetishistic attraction of (or personal desire to become) a superhero-in-uniform or a classically-costumed, Sacher-Masoch/de Sade-type, Neo-Pavolvian pervert. (The latter seem to be seen only at private parties, with the exception of a few renowned public displays in urban celebrations, especially the televised ones.)

All the masks with their attendant attire (fangs come with the cape; flag lapel-pins are optional), all the formulaic speeches (“I vant to sssuck your bluhd!”, “I’m gonna shake up Washington!”, etc.), all the public posturing (any group in KISS makeup will be certain to have Gene Simmons with his tongue out further than a dog on a hot August day at every stop; and the other?—eh, kissing a baby is pretty standard for the genre…)—in the end, you have to realize, if you are not out actively seeking to fill a shopping bag full of candy, you’ve gone over the line into fantasy.

So, is play-acting for adults a bad thing? No, not unless you hold the same expectations of thrill and exotic adventure for the morning after as you did the night before. Some would call it Sorcery, others delusional—and both would be right, in at least one sense of these terms.

Having canvassed the length and breadth of Bucks County, Pennsylvania every weekend since Labor Day (+/-), I can admit I have been under such a spell. My only visable identity is a t-shirt and a button but it is nonetheless my alter ego (as the old comics used to call it). The magic comes from Faith, the drug of Confidence, followed shortly by a chaser of confirmations by your immediate charmed circle. The “delusional” aspect is what replaces the “high” of participation: the loss of intoxicating support and creeping self-doubt.

Last weekend being the last weekend, it is a good time to look back without too much reflection on the whole (that will be later, when editing the video diary), and just summarizing the summit of this foray into madness. With mi espousa in tow for the final bow, we lit out for the territories: that being anywhere not one of the Five Boroughs. It was not that I wouldn’t have liked to do something closer to home, but home—while it may be where the heart is—ain’t where the votes are.

Dolyestown, however, is. The HQ from which I was first dispatched, and could actually walk to from the motel, was in a small, white-painted, two-story, wood-frame building opposite the courthouse, right at the crossroads of local arteries. (And, yeah, its address tells a lot: 72 Main Street. Why not “Elm” or “Front” or “State”? Because those were other streets, yup.) At one time, this was the nexus, the nerve center, but still folksy and casual. I could remember one Sunday, sitting on the front stoop with a couple of other regulars and Davy, the staff member who looked like the ultimate surfer dude, who lamented the fact that there was only one busload of volunteers that day. Since then, the operation had to open up one satellite office in the back of a Buckingham strip mall.

By the time we got in on Saturday, however, there was even one at the Hampton Inn, wherein I had to find accommodations after my regular motel was booked. The volunteers were such that, upon arrival, we were told that all the Walker Packets (Google maps and voter rolls) had already been given out and were summarily dispatched to Quakertown, up at the Northern boundary of the county, a half-hour’s drive away. In a two-car caravan (us with the locals, a VW Jetta filled with five sorority sisters from upstate NY following close behind), we snaked up the narrow 2-way blacktop through traffic that our driver described as something close to mind-boggling. By arrival, we counted ourselves fortunate that there were any packets undistributed. My only familiar contact was that my buddy Gene was also stationed there, and I at least got to say hello one last time before we shipped out.

Overlooking the last paragraph, I note how the Ghost-&-Ghoul holiday theme has overlapped into the military. This was inevitable; from the ground level, this is exactly how it looks. Never having been in the army, but knowing enough of the whole philosophy behind training and tactics, I understand this is what is meant by “doing Service”. This is what is also meant by a “campaign”. I am a footsoldier and we are, in contempo terms, the boots-on-the-ground.

The particular ground we’d drawn were three subdivisions, not all that different in character from those on my youth back in suburban Cleveland and Detroit. It’s usually easy to determine whether this was recently-sold farm acreage or not by whether the land across the road still has corn on it or not. This one was new enough, though, one where the model homes have names like Concord, Belvedere, Bay View, Newport and Bella Vista. (Do these actually mean anything?) It was the way the middle one began petering out that belied the waving banners and few balloons and the whole showroom atmosphere. Out at the fringes, it was little more than gravel pits and mounds as cement road curves around leveled lots overgrown with weeds before a line of trees; you could also note landscapers’ earth-moving equipment betraying signs of rust and a couple of empty contractor’s trailers. (Slight aside here, for a comment from my pal Gene, a lifelong construction guy with a small outfit of his own up in the Bronx. When we came across a similar situation, earlier in our travels, he’d noted how this was the first effect of the credit crunch. “These guys have already gone bust. As soon as they couldn’t get loans, that’s right when the hammer’s stopped, right there. Reminds me of some pals of mine back in the ‘70s. Same thing happened to them—they hocked everything to get the seed capital and lost it all in bankruptcy.” Whether or not Gene was right about that one, his words sure looked prophetic here; one empty shell was in progress—perhaps as a demonstrations of materials used, as if someone could be reassured by pine 2x4s and particle board—over by the models but looked as if it had been rained on more than once.)

Even under gray skies, it was about as merry a trot as could be got. At this late stage, everything is narrowed down to just supporters, seeing if they knew where their local voting place was (even though the office wasn’t yet equipped to tell us where that was) and hanging door tags (with a number to call) if they weren’t at home. And being as it was also the day after all the little spooks and princesses and parental units (probably on cellphones while doing separate escort duty), when you DID find someone at home, they were like as not to offer you some of their leftovers: Butterfingers, Reeses, Nestles’ Crrunch and even Quaker Oats Chewy Granola Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip bars. (Talk about a sweet deal!)

As if that weren’t enough to make any Baby Boomer nostalgic, seeing these freshly-laid-out tracts—some with sod having taken root after a second year, in swards flowing from one section’s backyard into the other’s without any of the wire fences which will most assuredly later blight the area as it always does when people feel the need to stake out their territory—was a Wayback Machine in itself. (For that cultural reference, please Google “The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show” and go from there.) You want to talk childhood touchstones? Nothing quite matches the freedom of seeing you have an adjacent subdivision on your map and, instead of doing the proper thing of walking down to the end of gate drive and up into the next one, you simply and gleefully TRESPASS ON THE GRASS, walking IN BETWEEN THE HOUSES without a care in the world! (It is difficult to describe this sensation to those who have never really seen a world without fences. I will only refer one to the song “This Land Is your Land” by Woody Guthrie and ask that you pay particular attention to the last stanza, the one later excised from all school renditions of it.) Later in the march, I had even given up walking only on the paths up to people’s front doors and began CROSSING LAWNS! Strangely liberating, that.

So, with our jobs all done by late afternoon, our driver took us back to the hotel, his wife Claire pointing to a deserted gas station, remarking how she didn’t know why it popped into her head, but was sure that it was remembered from her girlhood as a place where Jack Kennedy stopped on his 1960 run for the White House. (And seeing as how it had an old Irish diner next door re-enforced that conclusion. Someday I would like to post that picture here, if I can find it because, heaven help me, I think I might remember it too, in one of those mind’s-eye, Hollywood/TV overlaps with grainy B&W newsreel footage) There then came the sudden realization that this was part of a story that had begun long before I’d entered it, as candidate after candidate, election after election crisscrosses Pennsylvania, searching for supporters. And more, was, in actuality, just another bit of dialogue exchange in the conversation that is the American political process.

By Sunday, I’d figured the score and just gone down to the office in the hotel after complimentary breakfast, picked up a new driver and packets, and we were on the road with Allan by 10:30. Another ex-New Yorker, now retired to the rolling hills, he takes his orders from the GPS and regales us with more tales of the trail to here, and such exurban shenanigans as the rash of lawn-sign thefts (later confirmed by the above, as who would fork over a fiver to one side just to make such a negative statement?) and the way the opposition will place theirs in front of ours at key intersections of the main routes. He was glad as any to have a job to do for the big effort, offering to squire us to any location and pick-up for lunch or dinner; whatever it took. This is yet another example of unstinting generosity, the character of everyone met on the Long March; courteous and giving and frequently as solicitous of one’s feelings as long-standing intimates, if not moreso (familiarity breeding contempt, or casual incivility).

As luck would have it, for the first time I was actually in a neighborhood I had come to know. Instead of being driven to remote locations to either jog along county roads, with neither shoulder nor verge beyond a drainage ditch, or up and down the aforesaid planned communities, I was in the heart of Doylestown proper. Starting off just off Font Hill Road and the forest adjacent to the cemetery ridge and the estate of the local 19th Century magnate named Mercer--so paranoid about fire that he had every place he owned encased in concrete--you were immediately put on notice that this was Olde Schuyool. The first wooden porch, with the plaque stating the house was built in 1903, makes you stop for a second. The next one was from 1912. Then you look across the long approach to the manor and all of a sudden the weight of place, the density of history--as if from a Charles Ives composition, or Currier and Ives print, or Thornton Wilder or Booth Tarkington--you get this rush like a breeze from Time's vast and eternal ocean. Not a great wind, no, but a chill nonetheless, the feeling that, again, this is part of a process you see at only a few occasions in your lifetime.

So, as I've just cast my ballot, it seems like as good a time to end this post as any.

It was, of course, Obama that got to me. Charismatic leaders don’t come along very often, and rarely ever make it as far as this guy. Does that mean I'm still high on my drug of choice? Perhaps. But it is just as likely that I might have learned the trick of the treat.

See, Superstition is a funny thing; it makes you susceptible to omens, portents, signs and a belief in divination from such ephemeral things as polls. Standing in the shadow of a gothic mansion that could have been the inspiration for Collinswood Manor, you can see the theater of the real as well. The media is window dressing, stage settings, props: I am, you are, we are, all in the play, the grand pageant, the passing parade. Shakespeare said "There are no small roles; only small actors," and he was right. Even if you only trod the boards for one night every year, as who you truly want to be, that's not a bad thing. And if you only get who you want to play the lead every generation or so, that's not bad either. Just get out there, speak your lines clearly and in a loud voice, don't bump into the furniture and exit quickly.

And Vote.

Now I want some Thanksgiving. And a Christmas present. After the polls close.