The Highway Men

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Not just in certain intersections and squeeze points, but for miles upon miles and in all directions.  Were this those dark old day of pre carbon locomotion, I would have taken wagon team days or even spry hiker hours to cover the distance from the first car in congestion to the last cars just joining this huge parade of engines and anger.  This is the commuter city, the lost and cemented bayous of Houston, Texas, this is the current and future landscape both Bladerunner and mundane; the stuff of late night documentaries and college radio.

The solution has to build ever more highways, to facilitate ever more movement and yet it seems to each one of these highways each lane is filled.  Eight lanes, ten lanes, fourteen lanes (perhaps counting the service roads that run aside each direction), the traffic piles up late into the day and soon into the evening.  In between the ebb and flow of these tides of engines and brake lights, there are sporadic events, small tragedies and occurrences to be seen.

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Close to the shopping mall an 18 Wheeler truck had slammed into a sedan in a configuration called the T-bone.  Later the same day, and not far away, a compact car had crashed into a city bus.  All about there were signs of conflagrations and very complicated days as the evidence was often strewn over the shoulder of the road.  Bits of car, chunks of unknown plastic, oil stains and clay litter absorbent, dust piles from flares, yellow caution tape and gashes in the guardrail, trees, or other features of the roadway.

There too in this city of checked movement are memorials to those movers and shakers and long haul men who did not make it to their destination.  Bundles of worn flowers set casually on the ground.  Small clusters of plastic decorations and notes dipped in tears and rain.  White crosses stapled to trees, planted in the ground, or tied to a traffic lamp post.   On the highway the large digital traffic signs serve both as light houses warning travelers of clogged roads and incidents, as well as dark houses, as they carefully enumerate the fatalities to date and count all the dead souls.

Day 58 in the Year of Our Lord two thousand fifteen hundred and already in the great state of Texas there are 285 enumerated traffic fatalities at the writing of this dispatch.

And perhaps this does not count the white bicycles and those pedestrians gunned down by a passing motorist this past week for daring to walk alone.

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And it is no wonder that this maze of passages there are so many dangers and distractions and seething anger on the roads of rage.  This blogger, in a short time in Houston, witnessed three major accidents, two of which I cannot see how anyone in the car may have survived.  About me there was a number of drivers weaving fast and furious in and out of traffic and I don’t think I have seen so many people blow red lights.  From those who sped through at the last moment (common) to those who would just pause, and then hit the gas or take a quick left turn with or without looking for on coming traffic.

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Some may say this is the nature of the folks of Houston.  Their cowboy heredity and culture of individualism.  This open range mentality is indeed at odds for the city they have built for themselves for this is a city of walls, gates, highways, and rules.  Lanes that close at certain hours, special highways tolled at “market rate,” and the roadways lined with acre after acre mile upon mile of roadside Krap-o-la: Kentacohuts, Mcburgerwendyislandadrepas, Hooters, Motelholidaysuper8s, welding shops next to city schools, tattoo parlors next to churches that inhabit former Rite Aids where parking lots and drive throughs feed in and out of the main roadways without warning.  The sense of agoraphobia at the wide expanses are mitigated by the acute claustrophobia of knowing one is trapped and it will take hours to escape the confines of Houston proper and the huge circle of settlement that surrounds that area that does not allow for open land and it takes hours to reach a wild area, a wilderness where the bayou has not been filled with plastic cups or cemented into submission.  I felt trapped, seething and the fear gripped me.  My stupid car could not get my out of this.  There was little I could do but sit in the traffic and wait for them to clear up the accident, haul away the cars, and hose off the pavement.  I became too weak even to blare the horn, I had become that animal in the jaws of a predator who despite having no wounds just goes prone and allows destiny to wash over…

The sticker on the mirror of the bar exclaimed “Fuck You, Houston is Awesome.”  The woman next to me asked me how I liked Houston, what my impressions of the city were as an outsider.

I cowboy’ed up a beer and that deep squinchy knitting of the brow as best as I could remember the Marlboro Man did, and said…

Highways.  So many fucking highways.

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One if by Boat; Two if by Helicopter

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I was told that one buttons would summon a boat while the other one would bring a helicopter.  The small orange device fit into my hand and was small enough to stuff into a pocket.
There was a cost. A charge to my credit card of $300 in the event they had to come get me in their boat. The other button sent a message to the United States Coast Guard.  That was a more costly measure of last resort coming in at about $3000. I promised I wouldn’t use either but I was warned that I could get lost or have to fight against the tide and wind out or back or both.  Some assembled folks of traditional retirement age talked to me as if I were soon to be found in the local paper under the headline, asshole goes out in kayak in 10,000 islands and is never seen again.
Indeed it was gutsy I guess. But I had my GPS emergency button. I had my iThingmajigy.  I had a personal floatation device and plenty of beer.  Having been on the great Hudson River in a very old and battered canoe, I had some experience battling wind, tides, and strange fish that blew into my boat and thundered about. I know that nature is nothing to trifle with. This was ocean currents mitigated by a complex of mangrove …. Clusters? Forests? That exist to protect us from sea swells or give us medicine or just exist since not everything in this green earth has to be there for our pleasure.

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Still, the warnings given by the rental agent and the concerned looks of the assembled elders did have me question my choices for this morning and my approach to life in general … at least back to age 27 and that time I came home and had to revive my roommate who had turned blue sprawled out on the floor from a mixture of pain killers and “bergen and water.”

The Kayak rental was in what is considered by Florida standards a historical building.  It even had a plaque outside, which makes it official official.  It looked like one of those old run down gas stations one sees in the Northeast Kingdom or the Blueberry Barrens of Maine.  The outfitter as well as my motel were down the road was the historic Smallwoods General Store, a provisioner from back in the day that the Great Land yet remained wild and villages were yet tied into the modern world.  The natives traded with the new comers and this continued for decades until after the Great Patriotic War when the United States set about building roads, draining swamps, and changing the face of the earth forever.  The road first connected Everglade City to the outside world, then it crept ever ever on to then grab Okeechobee island.  This connectivity brought more settlers and those who could afford provisions in Naples or Miami.  And so while the area remains wild as of a sort. There are plenty of Snow Birds, Flatlanders, Upstaters, and Northerners all roasting and turning various shades of pink in the crusty steaming hot sun. The local community withered somewhat and Smallwoods closed for decades to be renovated by a historical society that today keeps this small reminder to how much can change in just a few decades and what we have lost along the way in order to gain this new graded road system.

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Bethatasitmay, here I was standing with my paddle and radio beacon tucked in my pocket having created a fairly large carbon footprint to get here, and ready to see the “wilds.”  Such as they are today, but a sideshow to our ongoing civilization’s expansion. 

Bidding the worrying elders G_d Be With Ye, I walked down the lane to the dock where the rental kayaks were kept.  Golf carts and ATVs competed with huge pick up trucks for space on the small road that connected to a network of RV camp spots and small houses that reminded me of the Levittownesque suburb I had been brought home to from hospital after I was born.  Across the water from this plethora of pleasure craft, BBQs, and gear piles, was the wilderness.

In my craft I took stock of the tide, wind, and layout of the islands.  There was a network of these islands however, there were major channels running roughly southwest to southeast.  The sun was at a low angle since it was winter, but it would be on my left shoulder on the way out and left shoulder on the return.  Simple enough.

I also had my iThingy in a plastic bag and locked into my position using The Googles Maps.

I then set out to get to the open ocean, having charted a rough course of travel.  The current was strong enough that it pulled my craft down the smaller channels with ease, however, breakwater was neigh, and I knew soon the tide would not favour me. Tucking in hard (or whatever the Kayak term is for paddling… perhaps it’s paddling but I cannot know this since I am writing this in an airplane about 30,000 feet up and too cheep to pay for internet service), I was making good time to the open ocean where I would meander a bit and then ride the tide in taking advantage of the layout in order to scoot up and down the narrow bits and perhaps see some wildlife.

I was immediately rewarded by seeing some wild animals.  A brothel of raccoons (I’m sure that’s the word) was by the shore doing raccoon stuff.  They looked thin and worn out, nothing at all like our Northern Trash-Fed critters we know.  Go North! I shouted to them.  They just looked at me with eyes full of rabies and retreated into the thicket of mangroves in order to continue doing raccoon things, but hidden now.  At low tide the shellfish were making all those creepy popping sounds and the waters were bubbling. There was that low tide smell too.

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Suddenly I saw the dorsal fin of a dolphin.  Then the thing jumped out of the water ahead of me as some private show but I assumed it was indifferent to me in my little yellow kayak.  I followed this creature watching him or her fish or play or masturbate or whatever dolphins do on a Saturday morning until I realized that I was heading closer to the mainland and I did not feel that tug of the tide heading out to the open ocean.  Also, the wind was picking up as the sun reached up a little higher.

As the wind picked up it did take a little extra effort to get to the ocean and when I reached a suitable location I unpacked my picnic which consisted of leftovers from a meal I had at the roadhouse where the local bruiser said my jacket was stupid and I considered for a moment all those stories of Florida Man and had I just schemed up to the bar next to Him, that Florida Man who just ate his mother’s face or smoked a bag of drugs and had [heterosexual] sex with a manatee.

My styrofoam contained and industrially cut fries looked so strange in this context. Mangroves take an eternity to grow.  A “tall” tree may have taken a hundred years to get to that height and those small sprigs on the edge of the mound, the little ones just moving out to colonize more ocean perhaps are yet older than I.  And it is a formidable ecosystem out here with tropical storms and hard salt air.  My pants as they dried showed the stains of so much salt and I had only been piddling about for a few hours by this point.  The “ground” crunched under my feet.  Thousands of years of shells and muck made the little “beach” I had pushed my boat against in order to stand up and let the blood return to my legs.  I made sure not to step on living clusters of shellfish, but I have to admit, it is hard to tell what is the quick and which are the dead since I mostly see shellfish next to a pint of beer on the dark rich wooden counter of the Oyster Bar.  I peeped into the depths of the mangrove tangles just in case a few pints were hiding there or at the very least some fisherman’s cooler had exploded and left me some gifts – which has happened on a number of occasions when I am canoeing Upstate.

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After the repast it was back in the kayak and another attempt to get lost. While I was able to find a few dead zones, for the most part Googles was able to locate me on a map.  I will admit, when the wind picked up and the chop became a little stronger, I opted for knowing where I was rather than being truly lost in exploration.  All this way and I may as well have been on a teacup ride at the now measles-infested Disneylandworlduniverse.  Yes I was pushing against the wind, minding the currents, paddling hard on my own, but I had more electronic power in my pockets than what it took to land a man on the moon, and have him and his friends return safely to earth.  One button if by boat, the other if by helicopter.  I felt ashamed to have pretended this was a dangerous journey.  There was no way to brag to friends at home.  When the dolphin was jumping about, I was texting, “hey I’m looking at a dolphin lololololol!” to which the reply was an emoticon of a dolphin.

Even out there in the thousand year old tangle of salt marsh and sudden weather, I was stitched into the network of the New World Order and connected in a way that those early traders sitting on their rocking chairs on the desk of the Smallwoods store could not even imagine.  And I today, am starting to forget what it was like to be alone, to be wandering this green earth having to be aware of landmarks, shadows, moss, and knowing how to spot the right path among the network of deer trails in the Lost Kingdom and the Middle Hudson Valley.  I cannot know what it is to be sitting on that porch and not have a road to the mainland or an information highway to the world.

Having come back to return my gear and GPS the proprietor exclaimed that he was amazed to see I had made it to the open ocean.  “I thought that was you out there, you really traveled!”  I made mention of my way of avoiding the wind and making use of the current.  I then retreated to a cafe in ordered a burger and onion rings and to update my status on The Book of Face.

Stardate Everglades. Nature, conquered.  EOM.

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The Big Undifficult

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Canto I: Treme
The first parade of the first weekend full of parades. That day, back home, Gothem was celebrating the ninth or tenth day without a single murder. That day, New Orleans had three. For a city with a metro population about the size of Queens, New York (only one of the 5 boroughs of Gothem), it was an impressive number and truly 2015 looked to be as bloody a year as any in terms of murder and mayhem.
My motel was in Treme. It is a place on TeeVee as part of a show of the same name, but it also turns out to be a real place. A very real place. As the truck tore around the corner in front of me and crashed into a number of parked cars, I was reminded that this is reality. Real shit is really happening for real. I ducked down almost going prone on the sticky sidewalk in the event there was some gunplay. The crashing man jumped out of the cab of the truck and took off running down the street. Several police cars came to a halt moments later, and the officers quickly took to the chase. Then a man carrying a huge hand cannon ran after the police running after the [allegid] criminal. And by “hand cannon” I mean a DLS 2500 top-of-the-line fixed zoom or something like that. So I assumed he was a reporter and I didn’t want to embarrass myself by whipping out my iThingy to snap off a few pics with – what, at best 2.5 megapics ? I will admit the criminal element in me looked at those police cars, doors open, engines running and thought… life of crime joyride? Maybe I’ll just go get brunch…
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Canto II: Barkus
I wandered a few blocks until I was in the French Quarter and deep in the thick of a gathering of some sort. It was one of the day’s parades. I enquired as to what I was seeing from some locals. They were not local. Neither were the next six people who I talked to, but finally I discovered that there was to be a parade for dogs in about an hour. Enough time for brunch, I took an empty table on a balcony and had some rather mediocre fare realizing that 90% of the slop they serve is to tourists and for all I know comes from the same kitchen deep within the city, while the remaining 10% of truly delicious food is priced as $$$ on yelp and therefore outside of my budget.
I took a cocktail to go. Something I hadn’t been able to do since Moscow… another city with a high murder rate. Not that I’m comparing… just saying…
Plastic cup in hand I parked myself for the parade.
Barkus is indeed that parade for dogs and the people who love them. In my time in NOLA I spoke with many people about this parade and to a one, their opinion was positive or negative depending on Raceclassorgmnder lines. Did you manage to see one of our parades for humans, an older woman quipped. I assured her I had. That Barkus is one of the new non-traditional parades, she told me rolling her eyes.
Indeed Barkus may be non-traditional for a tradition-heavy city such as The Big Easy (TBE). Coming from Gothem, I am used to people worshipping:
1. Their dogs
2. Their babies
3. The way their dog and baby play aren’t they so cute and Zoey has good papers and Cloe just got into an exclusive pre-school

And not in that order.
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However, this dog day afternoon did not raise my hackles. It seemed about as normal as things get these days.
After the 10000000th cute dog, I realized that deep down I am a cat person and any creature that allows itself to become part of a parade was not a creature I could respect as part of a long-term relationship. Dogs look for approval and guidance and allow themselves to be adorned in a number of costumes. They are totally an OTO (one-time-only) type of hook up animal. You know, watch a friend’s dog for a week or so but not more than that kind of casual encounter. Would any number of cats allow themselves to be part of a parade? Ever try to get your cat into a costume?
Since I only had the day to explore TBE, I took leave of the dog parade, this event that when I looked about to the crowd seemed to be very, very, very of a certain Raceclassorgender. Not that I have an issue with that, but, I did expect a little more by what we today call “diversity.” Not that there was anything wrong with the I am sure very progressive crowd that was assembled. It just didn’t strike me that this “looked like TBE.”
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Canto III: The Parade for Humans
A few corners and an hour or so away, I found that diversity. If by diversity one means the opposite crowd to those who attended Barkus. This was the traditional Mardi Gras (MGs) I see on the TeeVee. Drunken, wasted crowds oggling high school and middle school girls hopping about in skin tight uniforms, interrupted by floats form which costumed reavelers toss so many beads about to awaiting fans, some of which have huge laundry bags full of these beads. In this crowd there were families and young and old all cheering the parade for humans. Some were smoking tea while others were deep in their cups. A woman had a daughter with her who wore see through tights to which the old men who arrived on their three wheeled bikes grumbled, she can’t be more than thirteen what is the mom thinking, to which they continued to stare at the very dangerous and obviously immature ass on display. Indeed, this was the sort of mix we had for the human parade which for me, was on both sides of the NOLAPD barricades.
I bought a rather large beer for $3 from a man selling them out of the front of the CVS because it is rare I get to have an open container. I made my way down the street hoping over the many wet spots, the slippery spots, and the chunky bits on the sidewalk as well as the piles of beads that had hit the pavement and scattered about. Some piles were clusters while others were mixed with crowd detritus. It was rather strange to see people vie for these sacred objects when one could get a wheelbarrow load of them just scoop them up and take them home to boil them for a few hours.
I must admit I am ignorant of this MGs. I thought it was one weekend – at least that is how Bud Lite Lime advertises it up North. It’s a weekend before Fat Tuesday which is often nickel chicken wing night or Lady’s Night or Ragnarok Night. I know it is MGs only because the banners come up and down and everyone jokes one must receive beads only for exposing one’s [female] breasts and hawhawhaw we should to to TBE some day for MGs and we all plan to but then never do… But no, the MGs is as real as a car crash and a long series of activities that build up to the Fat Tuesday celebration and the traditional Clearing of the Streets by the NOLA PD on Horseback at midnight. I was told that sometimes the affair last for three weeks from Three Kings Day until Ash Wednesday. While it was another week until the Tuesday of Fat, I had arrived at the midway point and was lucky enough to catch one day of the mayhem to come.
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Canto IV: The Casino
The human parade continued and the beads came my way. Some I caught, others I picked up when they didn’t hit the “wet spots.” A dude handed me a whole pile saying, take these to your kids I just don’t feel like carrying them anymore. And with an overabundance of beads, I was ready for the next TBE adventure: the casino.
Having draped my beads over my head like some loose tart, I showed my ID and was at once at the casino floor. From failed city to struggling state, the solution to our economic condition, especially those “Urban ones” is to build a casino. It is as if the worse off the population, the more casinos. A hallmark of Late Capitalism perhaps, but I also know that I can get free drinks if I play the penny slots and space my game out so that the server has come a few times before I have lost the obligatory $3 one sacrifices to the penny arcade gods. After a few “free” (because I tipped for each one and lost USD $4) I surveyed the crowd and realized, again, that I could be anywhere in any casino since the cast of characters is exactly the same.
I now had the next session.
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Canto V: Everything Else
The sun had set and it was time for dinner and music. After a little happy wandering, I came to an inexpensive place in order to have more mediocre tourist chow. My battery was too low to check out Openurbanyelpspoontable for reviews and tips for “the best seafood in town” or “don’t miss this whatever they serve here I think that has eyes John, I think it’s looking at me!” After dinner, I then set out to find music, which is… not hard… some could say it was even … undifficult … or antichallenging in this big city. Music is everywhere, even when you don’t want it. There are street musicians who look like lost Tulane kids. There are crusty hobo traveling musicians who look like crusty hobo travelers. There are brass bands that advertise they are from Treme, and those that don’t. There are girls with guitars with and without stools to sit on. There are music venues with and without cover charges. This din of music goes on every night, every day, all the year breaking only for natural disasters and perhaps not even then. I dipped in and out of various establishments in order to catch a few songs here and there. I heard Hotel California about 16 times. I could not commit to an entire set. Since the real concerts all started at 9 or 10 or 11 or 2AM or whenever the band showed up, I had to turn in just when things got going. I trudged back to my place, a comfortable room on the edge of town just about at that imaginary line that neither tourist nor TeeVee producers cross where TBE opens up into just being another gulf city on the hot tulgey coast of the battered and broken toxic and industrial Deep South Empire. I stuffed my beads into my carryon luggage, and perhaps was the only one in the city having traveled to TBE who was now tucking into bed at 10PM during Mardi Gras. Outside, somewhere, a car backfired.
Or was that a gunshot?
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The City of Jinx

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New Orleans is a phantasmagoria of a city. It is a damp, dank, Murder Capitol of tourists who blitz out in certain quarters as it is where middle aged ladies run naked and yelling to the night sprint over cuddle clusters of passed out bilgey travelers we also know as Gutter Punks drunk before vespers and passed out prior to the angelus.

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It is a city of lace and music and mayhem and the lost souls. Students lured away from class. Vacant suburban children who though being poor was fun before they fell into the boring routine of poverty and forgot their privilege. No need to reach distant Oblasts to purchase these souls, most of them are willing to give themselves away for free or at least at cost.

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Crying and milking and dangerous and always that moist damp in the corners the city is that fat old person who sweats into their folds but we love them for who they are. The houses drip pealing paint, even those well kempt. The trim houses sit next to their dilapidated country cousins. All about run the highways of the New South while the Old South mutters away begging for pennies and serving $700 bottles of wine.

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The gates open up and one enters this world of 24/7 drinking and song. Police cars fly by every now and again just to remind the viewer that this isn’t Disneyland. Or world. Or universe. Despite the layers of fake. Fake barely legal on bourbon street, fake ghost tours, fake order in a field of pure chaos. Those old houses painted up as whores and tarts are a facade of the 19th century attempt to place a gentile doily over the cruel crushing inequalities of that older age that birthed corruption and acres of Jim Crow.

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And in this sinking wonderful mess they are tossing beads. For free.
A stranger handed me a whole shit-ton when I said I was new in town. Take ‘em, he exclaimed, I don’t want to carry them home. Take ‘em to the kids if you don’t want ‘em. Having no descendants I still took “‘em.”
While in the city for [redacted] to work with [omitted], I managed to get to enjoy some of the parades, bars, music, and slanty shady goings ons.
I neither had the best gumbo nor heard the greatest jazz player, caught a real moment or stumbled upon a place only he locals know.

I’m not sure I would even know it even if I had.

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Toyland: The Haves and The Havemores

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In this nation there is a deep division. A stratification of society that has of late been making the round in various news cycles having jumped out of the college newspapers (kids, you still have those ‘newspaper’ thingies?) and into the MSM. Call it the Tale of Two Cities, the 99%, or some other simple to hash couplet, portmanteau, suffex ‘gate,’ or trending device to decry that we are increasingly divided in this land into distinct camps.

This is the division between the Haves and the Havemores.

The Haves are roughly 95% of the 99% of this country. These are people with an abundance that others the world over envy. That is, they envy our flush toilets, running water, hot water on demand (I will miss all these when they’re gone), and refrigeration. Anyone who is not currently homeless has it better than most of the world. Nevertheless, in our Great Land, there are those who make us Haves look like poverty stricken villagers piddling in the mud.

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These are the Havemores. They have everything the Haves have as well as extras like extra houses, extra cars, extra nice things as well as people who they call staff, formerly called servants and way back in the day were slaves(African)/indentured servants(Irish).

Strangely, this division in class manifests across the land in the inverse.

When you are in the neighborhood of Havemores you see well manicured lawns, stately drives lined with trees, shrubs or flowers. Now, these people have toys galore. They just also have places to put them. The yachts tucked away in some clubby club, the cars in garages, their art cycles between houses or is on loan to a museum. Even the places that do business with the Havemores tuck everything away. It’s always, clean lines, simple living, minimalism. I was at the [very expensive hotel] on Naples beach and it was clear this division on the beach. In front of [Classy Hotel for Rich People] the beach chairs were spirited away as soon as they were not needed, the people all had but a few things with them, one of them appeared to be a mandatory wine glass. Clean, simple, and minimal. One would be hard pressed to see from what was on display that these people were secret maxamalists. They had piles organized and hidden. But, they left only footprints and took only selfies.

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Just over a little on the exact same beach, the same white sand, the same sunset, the Haves had all their shit out. Beach games, coolers, boom boxes (or whatever the kids call ‘em these days), blankets, umbrellas, kids toys, towels, inflated things of all shape, size, and buoyancy. The beach after the sun had set and the Haves were waddling home, the Havemores retired to the bar deck and the comfort of the Tiki lights and blue martinis, was a jumble of empty Solo(tm) cups, bits of or entire chunks of large plastic toys, and sundry other leavings. The same heaps one may find at a concert, fair, LARP-a-thon. Just this one was on a pristine beach. Haves are often larger than Havemores. Covered with tattoos. At least in Florida. They are more so they have more about them at all times.

This is also true for the yards of the Haves and most noticeably where these Haves gather in order to aggressively enjoy themselves.

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Away from the manicured retirement castles and villas of those final years in Naples and Marco Island this blogger traveled to a much rougher area close to Everglades City on an island called Chokoloskee. This island is Old Florida, the sort of place where people have lived their whole lives or at least there is still a strong network of “locals.” While this island is not unique, the predominance of items surrounding the small houses was so uniform and… well… over the top.

Yard after yard had a collection of grills, boats, trucks, three wheelers, four wheelers, golf carts, more boats, fishing gear, a travel home in case the vacationers wanted to leave their vacation home for a vacation, and sundry other items arranged in order to disarray according to the humor and temperament of each resident.

It was a cavalcade of shit. And yes, I wanted most of it. Especially those crazy dune buggies that maybe you can drive in the swamp or something. No so much those boats that have a fan on them. I don’t think I want to sit in front of a huge fan as I rocket through the water.  But if I did.  One would be sitting in the yard.  Next to the other one I use for parts.

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I have my own pile to be aware of. Which I guess makes me one of the Haves. I am not proud to admit that. From Upstate New York to the wilds of Maine in my travels I have seen mile after mile of so many houses that had exploded their contents all about … if their contents were boats, snowmobiles, water skidoos, large plastic children play things, that shed stuffed to the gills with crap and then left to rot. I have seen houses built in the woods where the shit shows up first, and then the house is built so that perhaps part of the landscaping of the Haves is to pre-shit the area.

I enjoyed my time in Ohokoloskee and met a lot of wonderful and friendly people. I enjoyed it in a different way in Naples and met lots of Havemores. These were two worlds that I am surprised exist in the same state, let alone an hour’s drive from one another on the same planet. We all need to look out in to our yards. Depending on how many toys you see, you can perhaps look to better join a side in this cultural-economic war and rest easy since… well, you have it pretty damn good either way.

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Night of the Hunters

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Few of us depend on hunting anymore. It has long since passed since we had to wake up and hunt for sustenance, that is hunt slippery lickery meaty creatures upon which to feed. We do mope down the many isles of certain stores and hunt deals and sundry provisions that we then push through our gastric lap band. Hunting to us is today browsing, looking for something to fill our face, or that deep void in our heart created when father on one of his many binges on hookers and blow just walked out the door and never returned and never even told us kids how to work the microwave.

Hunting to me was a forbidden activity as a child.

Back then my Grannie still lived in a very rural part of Upstate New York and back then, hunting was all around. We kiddies lived in a suburb of Gothem far out on a long island and many of those strapping men who yet had wives who were home makers who yet had entered into the Modern World we all know and love today took home plenty of deer. We would see them on a Sunday returning with some dumb dead animal on the roof of their car. On the highway there were aplenty of these. It is a sight today, that is no longer seen…

Grannie did not approve of hunting. She did not like the deer hanging in trees, the macabre decorations of a certain time of year when autumn gave way to winter and phalanxes of hunters would descend into the woods to shoot:

Deer

Bear

Turkeys

Each other

Their brother in law

While I grew up to disdain hunting because of Grannie, so did my generation. As hunters grew ever fewer in our region, another thing happened. Houses started popping up all over about my Gran’s rural area. By the time we moved up there housing crept into the small roads and ever higher into the mountains where there had once been fields, orchards, and forest. It was not gradual. It was as if someone flipped a switch. One moment there were horses, orchard, farm and forests. The next moment the fields were fallow and a foundation poured, the orchard cut down, the top soil removed, and the barns quickly turned to powder. So much for moving to escape the suburb…

The hunters too diminished at a once

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However, another thing happened at this time. Huge stores selling hunting shit cropped up. First just by major cities, then closer and closer to our region until we had access to several emporiums in our region. Considering the diminishing habitat for hunters and their prey, this was as strange as was a general reduction in the world’s population of animals since my birth that some put close to 40%. Not counting white tail deer that live among the houses and themselves prey on the abundance of yummy shrubs. With the hunters gone and the preserves divided into housing units or entire developments decorated with certain shubs and decorative plants, there is no end of these animals. Today a ten point buck has more chance of being brained by a BMW than felled by a hunter’s sharp shot.

Of these emporiums of faunacide, no one is as Terrible as Cabella’s. And by “Terrible” this writer employs a more ancient meaning as one may speak of the Godhead or Tzar. Cabella’s as I discovered in Pennsylvania was set out in the middle of nowhere. While it has since been joined by all manner of stores associated with the Geography of Nowhere, it still is majestic as if some lodge out of Lord of The Rings. Inside is no less a journey. Along with merchandise that spans the range from $14,000 rifles to $2 keychains and everything one may need to push nature to the ultimate submission, there are tanks of regional fish used to repopulate the stock as there are dioramas of various animals felled by the owners or friends of Cabella’s. In the center of this store, is the spectacle of a mountain rising up out of the merchandise decorated with yet more animals. It is a zoo of sawdust and preserved pelts. It is a purveyor of death and extinction. It is a temple of respect to nature and reverence of the Great Outdoors.

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Hunting is a complicated matter. While there are so many who perhaps wander in to a place like Cabella’s and blunder into their closest forest to blast baby kittens or rabbits with big sad eyes, there are those who understand the importance of the wild places and understand the often harsh but majestic trial that is nature and life. There are no easy endings out in the wilderness. Not for bee or bear, lynx of lemming. Cold, starvation, sudden death, and disease are as common as those sunlit days the catamount enjoys lazily up in the branches of a life oak. The true hunter understands life and death as they often understand conservation better than many of those I meet from city and suburb who think if there is a six acre parcel of undeveloped land in the middle of the suburb or a community garden on the block, they have found balance with the earth. It was the hunter, actually, who worked hard to freeze land into wilderness. Small individuals acting locally as part of land trusts as did the giants of the parks movement, like Theodore Roosevelt. If as we lose hunters we also loose habitat, it is perhaps a sad sight not to see as many deer tied to station wagons as we used to.

Nevertheless, there is a disturbing quality to these outdoors stores. Perhaps it is the spectacle of some of them, maybe the ease that it allows so many irresponsible people to walk out of the store thinking they can now camp for several months, perhaps just a sentimental snobbery of a time when the hunting store was a few old men in a converted house down the lane trading stories of the one that got away. I am amazed at the cadences in technology that then allow an ever greater pool of adventurers to access nature, even if many of those fools would have died in the same places given equipment from the 1980s. Perhaps this is democracy and equality.

While our wild areas are shrinking, perhaps a new generation of hunters will arise. Those who are not piddling in the mud of any culture wars but who recognize the need to protect, manage, and maintain our world’s true diversity. Even if it is to make really good jerky out of the finest specimens once in a while… for the balance of nature… or just because the goddamn animals taste so good.

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Slabsides: Everyone needs a cabin

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I grew up a short walk to John Burroughs’s Slabsides. A longer walk, perhaps several days to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond. However, it is of my opinion that everyone should have a cabin, even if they must keep it in their own way and have to make due with what the times gives them rather than trying to recreate the ideal or life up the expectations of an Emerson or that uncle of ours who moved out to Tuscon when  you could still afford to and lived off a mixture of “the land” and really hard drugs.

And so, my own Slabsides is nothing the Sierra Club would seek to preserve or any riotous back-to-the-lander would regognize.  It is not made of the hipster materials of any Brooklyn or Portland since it is still located far outside the sphere of “the cool” (apologies The Baffler).

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The depth of winter has set upon the land a stillness. One of the greatest gifts of winter for the glens of the rivertowns and the highlands of the Forgotten Kingdom is that of the stillness as earth, wind, and fire lay dead with only dust as their food and feathers as clothes. Those of us old enough to remember winter have again seen the great river freeze over as it did when we were young and we can listen to the tinkling of the ice in the darkness as the tide flows ever in and out raising and lowering these great plains of glass to heave them into ill formed chunks and mounds. This may only be a reprieve, a strange throw back before an endless summer of the future.

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Wintertide is yet the time of the hunter and the hunger. The frozen and forgotten. Those birches balking and gently swaying in the wind, strange forest chimes and knocking deeper from the woodlands that may be larger trees, groves of pine and oak, or deeper older spirits that date back to the ice giants and elder forces of primal nature. Walking in the woods with some companions we whist quick to listen to these above ground Tommy Knockers, the low staccato of trees ready to snap limbs or perhaps uproot altogether and walk.

As the temperature goes lower and the ice forms thicker, I sit in my cabin and reflect for a time. It is far too cold for action. Too long a night for reading all propped up and exposed. My little heater is pumping for all it’s worth but still the cabin is cold. This chill reminds me that others are cold. Out there the deer, the small creatures, the stray cats, those people who have fallen off or have been cast out of the typical world, and the many spirits that wander blue with cold, the hungry ghosts. My aloof cats come in to bed with me. Independent and proud, these mousers have given up the watch and have gathered at my feet, chagrin at having to trade their status for creature comforts, but pride is a sorrowful companion and fails to provide those raw comfort all creatures great and small require. The winds kicks up and snow blows down the little stone steps that rise up from the door and supply the only natural light into the cabin.

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Being in a cabin in winter is almost cliché. No … it is cliché. But, this blogger proposes, Dear Reader, that this situation is healthy for the mind as it must bring about a certain vigor to the body.

I keep my cabin in my own way. I cannot afford a mountain top monastery. Nor a log cabin built overlooking the crystal waters of a reclaimed stone quary. I must make due with a Post Modern cabin in that it is in the middle of a small downtown in the village of [redacted], a place that more resembles Brooklyn, New York than any open and deep forest. Also, this cabin is underground. By that I do not just mean secret. It is entirely underground or what the neighbor boy once said, a cabin under the streets. While not “under the streets” in any way like the catacombs of Paris, my cabin is build inside a fantastic cavern of a basement of what one may call a townhouse. This cabin does not even take up the entirety of the space underground, that is still too precious. It is a small chunk of space, just enough, close to the mechanicals of the building and yet removed from those and the workshop that fill the rest of the cellar. The ceiling is filled with great steam pipes as well as the additional fixtures of modern construction as well as reminders of our old industrial past. The walls are of ancient construction. The first record of a building on the site is 1814. The only thing left of that construction are large stones low down before the street was raised. The next layer is of a more refined hewn stone and then the final construction rests upon a brick foundation built upon the rest. For the village it is perhaps the largest, driest basement, and yet it has the same issues as any rivertown and ancient stone construction beneath the ground.

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As just a little room, it lacks all creature comforts as a true cabin does. It is a temporary space. A few walls. No plumbing. No kitchen. No stove. It is a simple space. Just a space for resting, thinking, and gathering a few friends to discuss whatever details of the day are required. The cabin is a space for all manner of treasures. Of course these treasures are glass bottles, bits of bones, rocks and unusual items of a poor man’s kunstkamera. Some are memto mori, others small lost things found in sad places, and others are pick up on the side of trails and deep in certain woods. Some are souvenirs from relationships now gone, loves lost and found, and certain things that speak for history, even if in a small way. The German army backpack from the Finland Campaign. The maiden’s hand as a door knocker cast by a Hungarian refugee. The 1940s light bulb found deep in the swamp. A cabin is a place for a rouges gallery as much as it is a spot for souvenirs and strange keepsakes.

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While I may one day have a cabin above ground, I have become accustom to my little retreat. In the past I wanted to be in some wooded area, some hill top, some valley, some Waldenslabsides Pondvalley, but … perhaps being underground these days is closer to the spirit of our age, and our increasing need to find a place we can unplug from our increasingly digital life.

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