By PAUL GOETTLICH 16 Sep 2004
Nabolom is an Aztec word meaning fire house or the mythological jaguar. It is also the name of a fantastic cooperatively owned bakery in Berkeley. The image of the Nabolom is by Paul Goettlich and it is taken from a rubbing done at an Aztec temple. The rubbing is hanging on the wall of the Nabolom bakery at 2708 Russell St. in Berkeley.
ONE beautiful August day, I was walking in Oakland along Broadway’s expanse of car dealership parking lots — an enormous area of pavement that’s hot enough to melt the tires off one of the stinking beasts that sit in prey of a buyer — with Hummers, SUVs, lard-ass minivans, fat-bob cruisers and other models of American design ineptitude. In spite of the miserable gas efficiency, people come from miles around to pay homage to them and offer up their hard-earned pay for the delusion of grandeur in being the owner and a driver of the one that most tickles their sensibilities. And it isn’t as if these piles of dinosaur dung have one bit of the performance claimed in the TV advertisements. One can turn the steering wheel and count to ten before the wheels respond. Heck, they don’t even turn off when the key is turned in the appropriate direction.
My father used to say he didn’t feel right unless he had a new car every year and a wad of greenbacks in his wallet. Back when he was a young driver, he could speed along the East Coast on Rt. 1 between Boston and New York City at up to 110 mph almost nonstop as there were few traffic lights and no cops. . . that could catch him. He had big fast cars — boats, as he called them. So it’s only natural that I recall him when I see these vehicles. It’s also interesting to note that amongst many synonyms for the word vehicle, one will find “means of expression.” They’re more about fashion than transportation. But again, even as fashion, they fail miserably. They’re as stylish as the inverted conical plastic collars that dogs wear around their necks to prevent them from scratching themselves above the neck.
The lines of today’s vehicles resemble stealth fighters more than the sexy curves of yesteryear’s models. It’s a fashion trend mimicking our sexual health in that human reproductive capacity as a species is rapidly diminishing. It’s a known in the scientific community that the sperm count in the populations of industrialized nations has been failing at the rate of more than 1% for more than 50 years.
Thousands of these things with glittering chromed hubcaps and polished aluminum alloy wheels decorate the area, recalling the era of chariot races — ludi circenses — at Circus Maximus and other spectacles such as the Coliseum in Rome in the 1st century. Each massive hulk ruthlessly devours petroleum resources and gives back a wide range of air pollutants including some wonderful greenhouse gases that have contributed substantially to global warming. It was rather disheartening to make my way through this museum of corporate greed that supports delusions of grandeur within the minds of all involved. This spectacle is the gift of the two generations before me — that of my father and grandfather, who had studied under Herr Diesel himself in Augsburg, Germany.
These thoughts faded quickly as I came upon a young man with a round balded area on the top of his head. The hair on other areas of his head and face was of medium length, dark and shiny – very healthy looking. At first glance, I thought he was an old friend. But as I got closer, it became clear that I didn’t know him and that he was a monk. I followed him into what appeared to be a car dealership.
Inside there were three long folding tables with about six to eight men on each side playing a card game. However, there wasn’t a single car or any signs of an ongoing business. Even in an ordinary car dealership it’s hard to find signs of life. But a great many question arose in my mind as to what exactly has going at this store front.
All of the card players were between 25 to 35 years of age and covered with the most colorful and imaginative tattoos I had ever seen. Each had little or no hair. And while they were similarly dressed, anyone could easily tell them apart. The messages and images each displayed were unique. The mannerisms of each were also unique. It was easy to see that quite a bit separated them from the people walking by on the streets shopping for cars.
It seemed that this was more than just a dreamy summer day because the colors of their tattoos appeared much more vivid hues. Some even seemed iridescent when viewed from the different angles, giving off a rainbow shimmering like oil on water. As their arms moved, the tattoo colors changed. Compared to the common tattoos of motorcycle gangs and sailors of the previous century, this stuff was definitely state-of-the-art. The images jumped off their skin into my senses, leaving image trails on the way. I wouldn’t have known they had done this except that there was a sound like faeries singing. And still, only in my peripheral vision did I spy the blurred streaks. Straight on, they could’t be seen.
Theses young men came here, to play cards for 10 or 20 hours a day. This seemed to entertain them, but I couldn’t help thinking that they were avoiding reality. Had they become computers? And merely running through an extremely limited set of chaos — randomness acting as a narcotic? At that moment, it seemed to me that I should observe and not judge. As it turned out later, they had other more serious things in mind than avoiding reality. More specifically, the reality they were aware of and experiencing was not shared by the passers-by. And indeed, those style hungry consumers outside on the sidewalk will most likely never experience an inner peace.
Across from me as I entered the room was a wall with 2-foot-high clerestory windows at its top. The window mullions were painted red, white, and green in a manner that had an Italian feel to it. Don’t even ask me why I feel this way. It’s just a feeling I had about them. Leaning against the glass were letters cut out of wood and painted with the same colors as the mullions that framed them. It looked as if they were painted while resting against the glass because there were brushstrokes emanating out three inches from the letters in all directions. They spelled something — some word that I can’t remember as I am writing this. Still looking up at the letters behind the windows, my hands touched them. I was able to be on both sides of the glass at one time — my hands on one side and my eyes on the other. They were painted months ago, but the red paint was still moist and I could smell it.
[So much action, color, smell, reality. Will I be absorbed into it?]
Then I found myself on the outside looking in at the players through painted glass. I wonder how long they had been playing cards. I could hear the cards. Other than the sound of the cards, the room was silent. Nobody was smoking, there were no drinks on the tables, only the sound of the machine. . . the computer. . . the players playing cards. A hard disk tapping out the cards…+,-,-,-,+,+,-,+. . . ad infinitum.
As if previously choreographed, the young men all got up in unison, flopped down their cards, and filed out of the room, out of the building, and went running, jogging for exercise in military fashion. They were tattooed, computer, card-playing, anarchists jogging militarily and merrily down a soft pebbled path. It was in military fashion that they jogged, but with thought, life, feeling and love. They had no order and rightly so. The bonds of life —— real life, not anger or hatred as present in the military. . . makes men become macho, mad dogs, out to kill whatever moves, in Abu Ghraib style. But don’t get in their way, or I should say, don’t be an enemy of LIFE.
They jogged on down the path. Part of my mind — a very small part — went with them. But I walked back to the building that had become a safe place to hang out. Since my friend the monk had gone with them, I turned around and followed them.
E. L. Lutyens Transformations
The pebbled path went through a country neighborhood designed by E. L. Lutyens. I was surrounded by English gardens and country villas with walkways winding between magnificent stone houses. Permeating the air was the scent of fermenting crab apples lying in a field of matted tall grasses. The screech of a rusty gate hinge intermittently blocked the barking of dogs off in the distance, fading in and out. The heavy gate slammed shut after each person passed through it, revealing its true machine character.
When I was a lad of perhaps 8- or 10-years-old, during the late summer sunsets of Connecticut, I would lie in bed with my head on the window sill, gazing out. The gull’s day had already ended and the bat’s was just beginning. The sill was at the same level as the top of my bed and low enough that I could effortlessly see life in the dark green shadows mixed with the rapidly fading deep reds of the sunset. On some nights, once the sun was long gone, the stars would come out.
I’d listen to a small, black, hand-held Motorola transistor radio using its single earphone so that my parents would not notice me awake long past my bed time. On that radio, I could hear WKBW in Buffalo, NY plus one or two stations in Montreal, Québec, and as far west as Chicago, Illinois or even Kansas. I’d listen for a while, and then try to find one even more distant than the last. Before I would realize it, I was well on my way to dreamland. I’d shut it off and fall back into my dream once more.
On other nights I would simply listen to distant sounds carried by the wind from miles away into my bedroom. The wind’s directional changes created a Doppler effect — a shift in pitch like the sound of a train going by. I needed to listen very intently as the sounds would come and go in soft waves accentuated by other sounds such as motorcycles or cars with little or no active muffler.
A carnival would set up in a field, not far from a small hamburger shack that my father and I would stop at to have some fries and play the pinball machine a couple times. I’d kneel on one of the red, padded soda fountain seats and watch the owner cooking French fries. They’d bubble, hiss and spit in the deep fat fryer. He wore a greasy white apron and hat. And had cigarette dangling from his lips that made his eyes tear so much that he needed to turn his head and watch the fries cook sideways out of one eye.
Here it is about 45 years later, and I can still smell the grease and cigarette smoke combination. It’s also easy to recall the hissing and crackling of the fries, as well as the thumping noises and bells of the pinball machines. I can feel my father sitting next to me in spite of the fact that he died about 10 years ago. Sounds, aromas, and taste are deep-seated in our memories and conjure up all sorts of meanings and memories along with them.
The most enjoyable sound was the steam calliope at the carnival that would set up at the north side of town. That same steam calliope was once pulled by horses in parades. It was atop a brightly colored wooden cart that had tall wooden wheels held together by steel bands, just like in the old West. By itself, the calliope had a sort of drifting effect as the steam pressure that powered the pipes varied. That in combination with the Doppler affect of the wind changing direction made a most interesting addition to the music. While lying in bed, I would attempt to discern which effect I was hearing. My interest in that would last just long enough to put me to sleep. I’m not sure, but I think that the only place that steam calliopes still come to town is in my memories.
Back then, the carnival still used horses around the grounds to do some work. And they played a big part in my visions with the music. So did books that my grandmother read to me, such as the story of Pinocchio, which used the image of a carnival. Bad little boys were lured into a cart and brought to an island where they playing all day, smoked cigars and drank beer, never noticing that they were being transformed into donkeys as a result of their indulgences. By the time they had noticed, they’d be carted off and sold as work animals to spend the rest of their lives in the servitude of a cruel master. The moral was that we should be good little children or suffer for the rest of our lives. But the attraction of the circus life remained strong for me in spite of those stories. I’m not saying that it only had good images for me, but that the bad ones had only a minor effect in tempering my behavior. With a little more courage, I could have run away with them.
Is This a Dream?
Now amidst the intermittent trickling sounds of rainwater from the previous day’s storm dripping off the bottoms of roof drains into puddles below, a mighty woman — the embodiment of a powerful, sorcerer and witch — appeared before me. Her body was beautiful in so many ways — strong legs and stomach, small and well-shaped breasts, curly red hair, . . . a natural salty smell of sweat from hairy armpits, and sweet cinnamon thighs, a glowing face with alarming eyes, whole body strong, not bulging muscles, but tough, sharp, strong, and warm.
She was exceedingly competent with the spear and whip, and quite aware of every movement about her. I was caught by surprise when the razor-sharp tip of her spear reflected the last ray of the sunlight directly into my eyes. It had a crescent tip. The thought came to me that all of the men I thought were monks were actually warriors, keepers of life, believers of life, and that we should remain alive, with life…LIFE…and not become machines as the technocrats and transhumanists so frantically crave.
I followed her closely in this country setting. We stopped at the corner of one of the villas. There was a chain hanging from one of the rain gutters. It seemed to come alive as a mechanical snake.
Instantaneously the warrior was also alive and aware of the chain’s movement. With her own chain/whip she attacked the snake vigorously. Then it really came to life with the flow of electricity and light — capable of defying gravity and able to direct itself in any direction instantaneously. It darted straight up the wall and began transversing the slated roof. The warrior threw her crescent-tipped spear at it and it fell to the ground lifelessly.
This noble warrior was also elegantly tattooed on many parts of her body. I couldn’t help but to gaze at them, the power of each held my attention. One across the midpoint of her upper arm spelled “rEVOLUTION.” And the moment I looked at it I was spellbound. I actually felt as if I had been transported into the future, into the actual battle time, when the workers finally joined together to gain in control of their own lives and put down the corporate greed heads, as Jim Hightower would say. Seeing the colorful empathetic on her arm was a wake-up call.
The Western Way
While those in cushy positions in Western society feel that there is no bloody revolution happening at this moment, it most certainly is for many millions who remain invisible in spite of being under foot many times in a day. They don’t look down at the homeless person begging on the street. They see something that they know is uncomfortable, unhealthy, and a long list of other negatively charged labels. However, they have not thought for more than a moment about what homelessness is and how it affects people. For the homeless, the ultimate challenge can happen in any moment of any day. Or it can be one long and miserable lifetime, from beginning to end as they get shuffled from one sidewalk to the next. And homeless shelters can be just as bad when one considers that there’s absolutely no privacy.
I had a step-sister who was a junkie, an alcoholic and was married to another. Once I was with the family and she was given a long warm coat to wear in the harsh winters of Boston. Then a few months later, I passed by her on Boylston Street in Back Bay, Boston. I had just come out of a jazz club after seeing Mose Alison. This was a special show because Mic Jagger and Tina Turner stopped in to greet Mose during an intermission.
It was late — maybe about 12:30am — and she had on that long, warm coat and dark sunglasses. Her hair was straggly, disheveled and dirty. The coat was in tatters. I didn’t recognize her at first. When I finally did, I turned around to stopped her. I said, “Hello.” She might have looked at me — I think maybe she did — but my image faded rapidly in her drug-addled memories. The fact that we had been close friends in our youth made it difficult for me to let it go — to avoid trying to gain her attention because she was a junkie who would then follow me home and steal from me as she had done to her mother. I let her walk out of sight with her partner. Out of my life forever, actually.
Several months later I was attending her funeral with the rest of the family. She’d drowned and had been found face-down in Jamaica Pond near Boston. I hadn’t been told about how she died until the funeral. But she lived in sewer pipes, begging for nickels and dimes so she could get one more hit of something. When her mother wasn’t home, she’d steal her jewelry. When her father died many years before, he’d been a lawyer in Boston and willed her a substantial amount of money which nobody ever told her about because her habit would have drained it quite rapidly.
I wonder just how many people live on the streets like that. The federal government doesn’t tell us. And the municipal governments, especially ones with lively a tourist business, don’t really want anyone to know. During the last count of homeless people in the City of San Francisco, the process was short-changed and mostly faked in order to make it possible for the mayor to say he’d reduced homelessness. I am sure he wanted to tell these uncounted unfortunates, with a smile on his face not to “take this personally, it’s just business.”
So yes, a bloody war is being fought at this time. It grinds up those at the bottom and spits them out.
But in another way, there is also a revolution underway. Thousands, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people have left the grid. Many never joined it. And many more will leave it as the days go by. I wonder how they make the transition or if they ever needed to. Where did they start from and where will they end up?
The grid society — a.k.a. the society at large or mainstream society — in Western cultures drive SUVs, sitting high above the homeless and the disenfranchised — those totally forgotten about by the so-called social safety nets. They drive these stinking hulks thinking they are somehow insulated from the storm. They think there’s a great difference between themselves and those who have nothing, and that they are somehow better people for not finding themselves down there on the street too. But the difference between haves and have-nots is like turning off a light. It comes sooner than daylight. Very little separates every last one of us, regardless of wealth. Money only protects the 1-percenters for a small bit more time than the rest of us. But that added time is when they finally see how little difference there is between us all. As Dylan sang, to Compromise With the Mystery Tramp.
Have you ever imagined being homeless for more than a moment? Have you wondered where you’d sleep on a wet, frigid night in a city? How would you stay dry? How would you protect yourself when you went to sleep? You’d surely need to because, while you don’t have much, there’s always someone else who has less and needs your stuff — whatever it is — more than you.
I hear the jets outside my windows, as well as the helicopters, cars, and SUVs, weaving in and out of traffic, endangering the lives of others on the streets, with the music in their vehicles turned up so loudly that one can hear them coming from a block away. If you asked them why they have such a vehicle they would look at you as if you are crazy for even asking. They may even become belligerent and insult you for your ignorance. But don’t put doubt in their poor little heads because they might lose track of gravity and fly off the face of the Earth.
They want to believe that ‘stuff’ will make them happy. They want to believe that if they work hard, ignore naysayers, and hoard ever last dollar they can, that they will find Nirvana, of course not knowing what that is. But not one of them has done the math that shows that the game is rigged from start to finish. And that they, personally saw to it that the game stayed on course, thus ensuring their own demise.
One must have faith in the concept of perpetual motion in order to believe in the American Way. It is also required that one believe in the oxymoron of sustainable development, the recyclability of plastics, the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus as well. While I’m at it, I might as well throw in that the government is here to help us. But I’m actually wondering when the transnational corporations that now occupy the place of government will drop the pretense that we actually have a government because it is just too darned expensive. It’s not such an far-fetched thought, now is it?
Forest of Chimneys
Each household in this city has a chimney rising up some 300 feet into the sky so that the smoke from fireplaces doesn’t drift into their neighbor’s home. This carries the smoke many miles away, into another neighborhood where we don’t know the people and it’s OK for them to breathe our smoke. Our guilt feelings are alleviated and the economy is better off for it as well. Because of acid rain, masons are kept busy. The forests need cutting less because they die. Window washers are in high demand. Every kind of air filter for every purpose needs replenishing regularly when the air is dirty. Buildings need to be painted more often. People need more medical care and the expected life is shortened enough to make room for more people to do all those jobs. Dirty air keeps the economy rolling.
Since some of these houses are on hilltops, the elevation at the top of the stack can be thousands of feet above sea level. In coastal area, this situation creates a hazard for low-flying planes and helicopters. There have been incidents where one or two have gotten stuck on the top. Seeking to avoid rebuilding the chimneys, the wreckage is left in place.
(continued beginning 6 Sep 2020)
Elevator in a Forest
Many years ago, I knew a Butterfly who lived in a tree called Luna for 738 days in order to protect Luna from the lumberjacks and evil corporate hacks. They came at her all that time but she did not come down because the elevator in her mind would not allow her descent. She was firm in her protest for more than 2 years. We must all be like that now and not allow the elevators in ours minds to descend. We must not give up or in.
Today, we are being brutalized in the streets of Minneapolis MN, Portland OR and a list far too long to include. (George Floyd Protests on Wikipedia list) I sincerely hope this all leads to a more just society, freedom for black people and others of color. I also hope this does not ignite into the second US Civil War. We know that racism cannot stand any longer. And we know that police violence must end as well. But when a president calls the troops on citizens in order to bolster his own political standing with white power racists, we must not give in. It’s a fine line that we straddle between voicing objections to the overwhelming brutality of racism while protecting ourselves and violence for which serves no purpose other than venting anger and frustration. Mindless vandalism and looting have no place in these protests. Note that vandalism is preceded by the word mindless.
I have seen police brutality since the 1960s. The thing I came away with was that police target blacks more than whites. It was certainly true back then, but it has not subsided. Now, even National Guard reconnaissance surveillance planes were used in four U.S. cities to monitor protesters, collecting intelligence on Americans.
It must end no matter how long it takes. You must wear protective gear, especially a helmet and gas mask. Be as safe as you can be. But never give in.