torsdag, januari 10, 2008

All About the Benjamins

This kills me: the FBI can't pay its phone-tapping bills!

Can you script it better than that? Nope. Reality is stranger than fiction, and perhaps full of more poetic justice than poetry.

It reminds me that when I lived in southern Illinois they opened a museum to coal mining in the state. The whole region had been savaged by the closing of coal mines. Illinois coal, as I recall, was too sulfurous. It produces too much pollution, thus requiring expensive scrubbing systems at power stations that use it. When I was a freshman in college, they were either still using Illinois coal to power the campus or had recently stopped. (It was state law that state coal had to be used for state campuses.) A major faculty lot had been spit upon repeatedly by sulfurous luggies from the power station stacks. It burned the paint on their cars.

So the coal industry in southern Illinois wasn't long for the world then. It collapsed. A museum was built in an old mine to remember this once-vibrant (though rather dirty) industry.

Not long after it opened, the museum closed. It couldn't pay its power bills.

torsdag, januari 03, 2008

The Voyeur

A voyeur has arrived on my block, and I believe I saw the moment of inception.

This was perhaps three weeks ago. I'd returned home about 7:00, which is a rather dark time of the morning here. I parked outside my building, and turning to exit the car caught sight of the naked, pink side of a body. Presumably it was a woman's. At the same moment, a bundled up and masked jogger passed, glanced into the woman's apartment, and slowed.

The building across the street has what the property manager calls "bump outs." These are French-door enclosed half-rooms that are off the living rooms of those apartments. Some people use them as sitting rooms, some as bedrooms (in which very little other than a bed might fit). The woman in the ground floor apartment directly across from my building's entrance probably uses hers as a bedroom.

She is simply someone who is comfortable--or was comfortable--with her blinds open. They are no longer that way.

The jogger was not the only person who seemed to fancy looking in on those windows, as a cabal of teenagers sometimes meets at the corner nearby. A bus picks them up. Sometimes when I've gone out to the living room and looked out I've seen one or two teens off by the doors to the now-defunct framing shop across the street, and they would on those mornings smoke a cigarette and cast furtive glances into that apartment.

In the weeks that followed this instance with the jogger, I caught sight of him stalking the block. Sometimes I saw him when I returned home at that same hour. Sometimes when I went down to fetch the paper from the foyer. Sometimes just walking out to the living room in the morning--I'm on the third floor--and looking out at the morning on my street.

That first morning I saw him, he slowed as he passed her window. It was a slowing that indicated to me he was thinking, "Did I just see that?"

I went into my building, turned my head back, and true enough he was making another pass of the window, just as slowly and this time with a bit of lift to his toes for an extra inch of viewing.

When I got up to my apartment, I looked out and saw him making repeated passes, sometimes from my side of the street, sometimes from the other.

I don't know how old he is. I suspect he's older than maybe his thinness suggests. (Life tends to have a way with us, you know.) At least I think he's thin, based upon the relative skinniness of his spandex-clad legs. His heavy coat disguises his stomach's true shape. His white scarf and tall knitted cap mask his face and hair. But there's an awkwardness to his steps that makes me think it is not so much a carefulness on the ice up here but the gimpy, balance-concerned stride of someone whose body is not as ready to be running (or walking) in the morning as it once was. Each step seems to be taken to prevent the body from going over. It's that sort of hesitant but forward-falling stride.

This morning I saw him again, as I arrived home at 7:00 am in the darkness. He was walking back and forth in front of that building and glancing in now at a new window where the blinds were up part way. The window he used to seek is lit but the blinds are firmly closed, as I believe they have been for a spell.

And seeing him makes me wonder about the human as an animal, and the way in which we attach ourselves to schedules, including the schedules of others. About the way in which we cannot help but watch and question one another. And about how writers, myself included, very much enjoy people-watching and catching glimpses of ordinary life, snippets of conversation, a note dropped upon the avenue.

And about how fine a line it is between ordinary and predatory viewing.

onsdag, januari 02, 2008


I'm am on my third pot of Winter Spice tea today. I recommend you acquire some too from the Tea Source. (The store was profiled on NPR's Splendid Table back in 2005.)

That is all.


This country's homophobia is grotesque, true. But here's what's rolling about my brain:

* New Hampshire became the fourth state to allow same-sex civil unions.

* This doesn't mean it will stick, of course. It just means that NH is the fourth state to give the go ahead until an ultra-conservative judge (of which we have an unfortunate number) decides that "judge-made" law is acceptable when it reverses civil rights. How they usually say this is by establishing a moratorium so that the state may "review" the law as written.

* Obviously, same-sex civil unions are intended for homosexuals of the same sex.

* But what if two homosexuals of opposing genders sought a marriage? Would they be forced to accept the lower tier civil union simply because they are openly gay? Or would they be granted full recognition under the law simply because one partner had boy parts and the other girl parts?

* Could two gay couples, one female-female, the other male-male, inter-marry (thus becoming traditional man-woman marriages), share a house, and, through independent contracts, transfer power of attorney and such to their true partner (who is for official purposes part of the other marriage), etc.

I'm not saying anything new here, of course; I'm just amused by it all. The furious opposition to these things. It's a horse pill dose of black comedy, day after day. We're such an embarrassing country. (Arguably, we've always been this way.) The endless need for state-sponsored prejudice. All that red-faced talk radio. The Atkins diet. (Remember that? See ya later, suckas!)

We're the worlds teenagers.