Monday, January 31, 2005

Squeaking Truth to Power

Lance Mannion's recollection of the Marine DI father of an old girlfriend has triggered a memory, long repressed, that has festered in the Jingo breast for 25 years. It is time to take arms against this particular sea of whatnots and by opposing, dum-de-dum. You know the thing.

Cast your mind back, O best belovéd, to that turbulent period in our nation's history that we have come to know as Young Master Neddie's Sophomore Year in College. You know what they say about that time: If you remember the late Seventies and you haven't blown your own head off in a fit of existential despair, you're probably not remembering quite hard enough. Young Master N. was a product of the fashion wars of the time: Although he listened avidly to the Clash, the Talking Heads, XTC, and many fine shorthaired bands besides, he had himself not yet taken the Haircut Plunge that many of his friends were making -- they feebly owned the act was Punk, but Neddie knew that cutting off your freak-flag was simply the first step to slurping Satan's Executive Bell-End.

(What? Do the scars still show?)

So your Neddie sported a mise-en-garderobe that hinted both forward and backward in time: Crater-faced Charlie Manson from the shoulders up, dimestore Joey Ramone from the neck down. (Today, of course, having seen the fashion light, I've reversed the formula: Dead from the neck up while my ass does life in Vacaville.) I was not invited to many garden fetes, which suited me fine.

The international situation at the time was desperate as usual, and in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the Then-Current Bonehead in the White House decided some saber-rattling was in order, and reinstated draft registration for men between 18 and 26. This gave an entire grateful generation of wannabe campus radicals the chance they'd been looking forward to since their moms wouldn't let them go to The Mobe in '69 owing to the incompletion of their math homework. Teach-ins, sit-ins, be-ins, Free Speech Movements -- the campus of Kenyon College covered the Sixties gamut from the Port Huron Statement to the Weathermen in about a week and a half. On Chinese Night the school cafeteria menu set off a screaming match: a particularly dim Beta Theta Pi took umbrage at the chicken entrée, believing it to be a mortal insult to the Viet Minh ("General Tso" being phonetically so nearly indistinguishable from "General Giap"). Oh, we were a fun bunch of poseurs.

Into this seething cauldron of playground radicalism the Kenyon Debating Society dropped a live potato-masher grenade (borrowed, no doubt, from that fellow-traveler cafeteria): They invited Gen. William Westmoreland and Ramsey Clark to debate the draft issue at Ross Hall. A frisson raced through the spine of the Radical Community (all fifteen of us): He's coming here! General Waste-More-Land! (I guess Ramsey Clark didn't set off any alarm bells, which, in rueful retrospect, maybe he should have, but we can't have Mulligans on everything.)

The bold course of action we plotted was to hold an anti-draft rally outside Ross Hall while the debate went on. That will do the trick! Twenty slogan-chanting undergrads, with candles-n-everything, singing "Imagine" to an audience of exactly none -- that's gonna show that darned old draft-registration-reinstatement who's boss!

Which is how it came to be that your Neddie was standing outside the Alumni House the day of the Big Showdown, leafletting passersby and saving the world. I hadn't planned to be standing there. I honestly had no intentions of causing a stir, I was just gettin' the word out. You know.

A school van pulled up beside the entry to the Alum House. The front door opened and a student driver jumped out and opened the sliding door. Out unfolds General William H. Particular Westmoreland Himself. Bushy eyebrows, eyes sunk deep in his head, prizefighter nose lookin' for trouble. He was wearing an unprepossessing trench coat, no hat. Of course he caught sight of me. Of course he caught sight of old Helter-Skelter-Gabba-Gabba-Hey. I don't know if he thought I was a welcoming committee, but he made a beeline right for me as his student flunky wrestled with his bags.

I imagine they've probably got a secret course of study they give the fast-track kids at West Point, "Intimidation for Fun and Profit." Westmoreland knew all the tricks. Stood too close, used height advantage, invaded my personal space, got his face right into mine, forced eye contact, all that Full Metal Jacket shit.

"My, you're a fine specimen," he said quietly, taking in my Goodwill suit-pants, black Converse high-tops and baggy brown sweater. "What's your thing?

Now, let me try to impress on you the scourging depth of the contempt that this man...thought...he was expressing with this question. His lip curled mockingly as he delivered the word "thing," as if its utterance was a devastating assault on my self-confidence, a daisy-cutter blast on this effete college-boy punk-ass before him. He plainly expected me to wilt under the humiliation of the realization that he considered me inane.

Only one little problem with the logic: "What's your thing?" was a stupid, outdated, swingin'-Sixties phrase -- something a broke-down, hack-ass Borscht-Belt Buddy Hackett clone would have used to try to get into Goldie Hawn's pants between takes on the set of "Laugh-In" 12 years before. The correct phrase for the General to have employed in his ludicrous attempt at sarcasm would have been, in 1979, "What are you into?"

You expect your human-incarnations-of-evil to be a little hipper, I guess. We had to destroy the village to save it, and by the way -- what's your thing, Snickelfritz?

But that didn't mean I didn't owe the man an answer. I couldn't just giggle and walk away; that would have been chicken (I'm not chicken; General Giap's chicken, ho ho). Plus, he did still have me in that Full Metal Jacket DI posture. I was his little Private Pyle, trying desperately not to smirk at the left-field stupidness of "What's your thing?", believing that if I did succumb to the parlous ridiculousness of this situation I'd wind up in some boot-camp head somewhere, sucking on the barrel of my own M-16.

So I needed to come up with a rational answer to his question. Is he asking about my hobbies? Does he want to know what turns me on? How I get my crazy kicks, Daddy-o? Or does he expect me to just cut to the chase and start shrieking slogans at him?

I decided I'd give him the benefit of the doubt, and the polite answer.

"I play the guitar," I said slightly idiotically, taking the hobbies route.

I guess he was disappointed that I hadn't taken his bait because he became impatient. "What do you want?"

Well, it seemed to me that he'd interrupted my day (I really hadn't planned to be there, honest!), but I cut him some slack, decided to try to make some hay while the sun shone. "I have an invitation for you."

"What kind of an invitation?" Narrowed eyes, suspicious glare.

"There's an anti-draft rally tonight." Proffering a xeroxed flyer, just suggesting it here, really, no obligation...

Contempt returns. "You don't really think I'm going to come to that, do you?

"Just thought I'd ask."

With a military-butch "Tschah!" he turned on his heel and stalked away toward the Alumni House, trailing history and blood in his wake.

I turned and saw the student lackey, his loathing of me glowing like a napalm burst as he swayed under the weight of Westmoreland's bags. He toddled along, following the General to his repose. I hope he's a sixth-level political appointee at HUD today. Unfortunately, I bet he's a Vulcan.

This is exactly what he looked like:
No body, just a floating disembodied head
made of lumpy shit. Woo, scary.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Beyond the Zero

Imagine a world where Seymour Hersch didn't exist.

What's truly scary is that the stuff he's saying here sounds, well, a little nuts, like the guy in clashing plaids and fingerless gloves who parks his shopping cart at the McDonalds at the Port Authority Bus Terminal and nurses one cup of coffee for four hours while he fiercely underlines passages in a three-day-old copy of the New York Post, but...

I Believe the Crazy Guy. That's how weird it's gotten.

How drenched in cognitive dissonance have the last four years been? How close do I sometimes get to just giving it up entirely, surrendering up my rage just to make my brain stop hurting? How huge is the temptation just to enter Rocketman's Zone! Sy Hersch flaps and caws, an atavistic Dodo, but I can't hear, I can't tell One from Zero anymore. My chest fills and I stand crying, not a thing in my head, just feeling natural....

I care. I don't care. I care that I don't care, but I don't care that I care. One Equals Zero.

I Believe the Crazy Guy. That's how weird it's gotten.

Thursday, January 27, 2005


Have achieved enlightenment on what to do with my Blogroll. I know the categories aren't exactly self-explanatory, which disappoints the Bodhisattva of User Interface Design (Right Livelihood), but I think it will be fun to decide which categories I put new discoveries into.

Added Lance Mannion to the Path, because he was cool enough to check me out, and because, well, he runs a hellish good blog.

Adorable Yellow Sea Sponge

Mark Morford occasionally irritates me with the overheatedness and the hyperbole and the predictable rhythm of his writing, but today he's pretty damned entertaining.

And toward them, we normally just roll our eyes and shake our heads and smile, and feel a fleeting moment of sympathy before shrugging them off like you would a 2-year-old throwing ice cream at a tree.


Wednesday, January 26, 2005

See, This Is What I'm Talking About

I was once brought round to a sharp turn by an essay by Alexander Cockburn in which he recounted how his grandmother told him she'd known someone who had seen Marie Antionette on her way to the guillotine.

Think about it, do the math: Cockburn's born maybe in the 1940s -- guessing here. That would mean his grandmother, if sufficiently venerable, would have been born in, oh, say, the 1860s. From here it's not at all a stretch of imagination to postulate someone born in 1785, say, who would have been eight years old at the time of Marie Antoinette's execution, and who could quite easily have lived long enough to have recounted her impressions of the event to a young girl in 1875.

The point being, owing to what I think is a natural, inborn solipsism, we think of the past as unreal, a fancy story somebody made up, a nice costume drama but certainly nothing that has any bearing on us today.

Here's another example.

So this house...

...belonged to a guy named John Stevens in 1859, the year of John Brown's Raid on Harper's Ferry. Its yard is adjacent to mine.

[Edit, March 5, 2006: This information is incorrect. This is not that house. Please see this post, from a year later, for the corrected information)

I was wandering around in the graveyard of Mount Olivet Methodist a few days ago, and quite by accident I found his final resting place:

The stone's a little difficult to read, but it says

John J. Stevens
Born Aug. 3, 1837
Died Dec 10 1905

Well, John Stevens, in 1859, built the gallows on which John Brown was hung.

Furthermore, he guarded Brown's cell on the night before he was hung, had words with the crazy old bugger.

Brown's Execution, December 2, 1859

This absolutely knocks me on my ass. These... these... ghosts wander around among us, people who were here just fifteen minutes ago, and we treat them and their lives and their works and their memories and their names as if they NEVER EXISTED AT ALL....

Something must be done.

(I got the Stevens info from Eugene Scheel's book, Loudoun Discovered - Communities, Corners & Crossroads.)

Next Stop on the Mobberly Trail: I, uh, discover that there was this guy named Mobberly, see...

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

See? I'm Not Crazy!

By way of vindication....

Cleanup for Spit-Take in Aisle 13

Wonder Woman was baking last night, sent me to the grocery store in Brunswick, over the river, to get some chocolate chips.

I know in these uneasy Red-Blue times it's just not cool to laugh at Yokel-American culture, but sometimes they just make it too damned easy.

Monday, January 24, 2005


I am developing a major man-crush on Joe Bageant. I first became aware of him from this essay, linked to from The Smirking Chimp. As a writer he's a more articulate version of Hunter Thompson (with whom he apparently used to hang), with that Thompsonian passion that makes its way up from deep inside the gut, with stops at the bile duct and the seminal vesicle. He's also got a finely nuanced feel for the species Redneckius Americanus, based on his life among them in Winchester, VA, about a half-hour's drive from my Lovettsville.

I'm trying to suck it up to write him a fan-letter, offer to buy him a drink. I think we could come up with a few things to talk about.

Who's His Daddy?

OK, OK... Back to school, back to work, back to back, back to the future, back off, bud, I've got a loaded question and I know how to use it...

Now what, please, are we to make of an Inaugural Speech so obviously devoid of critical thought that anyone with even the most cursory acquaintance with history is puzzled by it -- so peabrained, in fact, that the speechgiver's dad has to issue a hurried clarification to quell the buzz of loathing that now spreads through the camps of both our allies and our enemies?

Surely Our Distinguished President's henchmen know how closely these things are read?

Can it possibly be that they just threw together some blithe crap that sounded nice, without the slightest thought to the apparent major policy shifts they appeared to be announcing? That in pretending to adhere to what most of us agree are laudable values ('cos that's what Inaugural Speeches do, duh!), they accidentally trapped themselves into pronouncing a doctrine that obliged them to, you know, actually inculcate them?

'Cos that's sure how it looks from here.

I'd like to think more thought went into it than that, but this is the bunch that gave us the Iraq Aftermath. That speech looks very much like a C student's idea of what an inaugural speech might look like -- dashed together at three in the morning after a bender down at the Deke House.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Sneaux Din, Part Deux

And Coltrane. Woah, lots and lots of Coltrane. And that Xmas gift copy of David Sedaris' Dress Your Family in Cotton and Denim,threatening to be consumed at one sitting, my thickly-besockéd feet stretched hedonistically toward the fire, still going strong after 6 hours and about a sixth of a cord of wood. And maybe even a nip or two of vodka.

Please Nobodaddy, may the snow never stop.

Sneaux Din

Swingle Singers on the box, spiced beef stew with rice on the stove, fire going on the hearth.... I don't pretend to know what womb-memory is tickled by the knowledge that it's snowing buckets outside and I'm warm inside, far, far removed from anything and anyone I don't love, but tickle away, say I. Give me a snowstorm, plenty of firewood and food, and I care not who makes the nation's laws.

(Let's see if I feel this way if I can't get out of here in three days...)

Gales of Derisive Laughter

This morning's Post: Bush Speech Not a Sign of Policy Shift, Officials Say

Excuse me while I clean this morning's coffee off the monitor...

Well hell, I was just wingin' it with some crap that sounds nice! It's what you're supposed to say in an inauguration speech, aint it? Y'all don't seriously think you're gonna actually hold me to it, are ya?


Friday, January 21, 2005


It's going to get bitterly cold here tonight -- they're saying 10 deg. F., which is very cold for these parts.

I just went out to the garage and put my spare case of beer in the fridge out there. Not to chill it, but to keep it from freezing.


Syndication implemented through Feedburner. See "Feed" link, lower right.

RSS? Atom? What's this mean? Help me, somebody.

One Hardscrabble Sumbitch

Like all of humanity (see previous Africa post) we Jingos have not always lived where we live now.

Some six months ago, faced with the realization that our once safe and sleepy bedroom community outside Washington, DC, had actually acquired a skyline (and, truth be told, faced with the prospect of endless permutations of this nauseating shit), we bugged out and split for the country. Not too far out, mind you, but far enough that tractors are a frequent navigational hazard on our dirt roads.

(I'd like it known right here and now that the Jingos did not cause a new house to be built in this terribly stressed county, which is selling its heritage to these assholes at an amazing rate -- we acquired a gently used one, and so you can take your snotty comments and stuff 'em. I don't play that way.)

Since the move I've become intensely aware of how the past informs the present. Out here, roads are named after the people who lived on them, or after the towns they connect. Walk through graveyards and the same names occur: generation after generation of Everhards, Wenners, Rodeffers, Georges, going back to the 1730s, Pennsylvania Dutch antinomians who leased these lands from the Donald Trumps of the time. These are the names on the mailboxes, too. You feel like a bit of an intruder, in that sense, that in putting your own name on your own mailbox you're putting your big dirty clodhoppers up on somebody's good tablecloth, stomping cigar ash into the carpet, roaring at the children.

I bought an 1859 map of the county, which I examine intensely for clues about the place. Many roads follow exactly the same routes as they do now, but with different, slightly comical names: Snickersville Pike, Old Carolina Road. But the map also shows many roads that have completely disappeared, their usefulness gone. This intrigues me -- who were those roads named for? What did they connect?

My house nestles at the foot of a ten-mile-long north-south ridge called Short Hill Mountain. Short Hill has a vertical drop of about 700 feet -- not an Alp, by any stretch, but respectable for the Virginia Piedmont. One of the first stories I heard when I moved in was of how, for fifty years on either side of the Civil War, from the first settlement until the internal combustion engine, locals would collect up eggs and milk from the surrounding farms, pack them onto mules, and hike them straight up and over Short Hill and down into Harpers Ferry a few miles upriver on the other side. The route they followed is still called Egg Path.

On a hike one day, I found Egg Path right where the map placed it. Much of the top portion was worn away, but for two-thirds of the way up the mountain it was unmistakable, a groove worn into the mountain's face, straight up, nearly vertical in places. I tried to imagine a life that thought it unremarkable -- a day's work! -- to lead a mule up that path (my legs were burning after only a few steps), walk into Harpers Ferry, sell the milk and eggs at a tavern, and then walk back the whole way, only to do it again a day or two later.

Imagine a life that considered worthwhile the (to me) painful effort of walking that path for the utter pittance that a sack of milk and eggs would have brought. Day after day after day. Until you die.

This was a living, for somebody.

My hat is off to him.

I want to save his path.

(My blog tagline is not entirely a joke.)

Following the Mobberly Trail? Up next: History? You're soaking in it!

Fresh Out of Africa

It's jolly fun to ponder what sort of tooth-gnashing fury our Intelligent Design friends were sent harrumphing into last night upon watching The Journey of Man on PBS last night. (Well, hell's bells, I know those people don't watch science documentaries on PBS, but it's fun to pretend that we have even one cultural touchstone in common.) It's hilarious to consider that they restrict their bowdlerization of scholarship to the teaching of biology; if you would have us cleave to Ol' Nobodaddy and scorn the Mephistophelian temptations of humanism, then you must also refute huge swathes of physics, medicine, chemistry, astronomy... But the affronts to Biblical inerrancy in those sciences are, you know, hard to understand, unlike the rather more digestible concept, My granddaddy weren't no monkey!

Admission Was Free, though

Not long before Christmas, Grandma Jingo managed to chivvy the whole Jingo clan to a "family-friendly" event at Wolf Trap Park, apparently an annual affair, where the Marine Band played ecumenical Christmas music, with even a few Channukah (there is no incorrect way to spell that word, so I'm not even going to check) numbers thrown in. The audience of Christmas-sweater moms, Promise-Keeper dads and bored anklebiters prattled incessantly when not braying along with "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Peshmerga Gunsel" and rattling jingle bells imported for the occasion.

This is, it goes without saying, not a scene most likely to fill your man with a rosy glow of Gemuetlichkeit.

Near the climax of the proceedings, the Matriarch leaned over and asked me if I was cold.

"Why not at all, Mother," I beamed at her; "I've got my loathing to keep me warm."

Now you can too. I'm particularly fond of Number 3 on the list.


Links now open in new window, thanks, Wes! New art added, fixed typos in Bio...

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Dialog Guaranteed Verbatim


Scene: Morning Coffee at the Jingo Household. Newspaper is consumed.

Me: Hon?

Wonder Woman: Mmmm?

Me: The next time we make sweet, sweet conjugal love...

WW: Mmmm?

Me: I want to call you Jenna...

WW: Ewwww!

Me: ...And I want you to call me the Long Beach Acceptance Corp. of Paramus, New Jersey....

Well, well, well...

Here's me, promising I wouldn't go all squishy-oogie in my fancy new blog, not blather on about my dogs or post pics of my kids doing adorable shit, and in my very first post I blow that promise straight outta the water.

Well,the fact of the matter is I'm at home waiting for the nice man from the Invisible Fence company, who's coming to give an estimate so we can keep our egg-sucking mongrels from chasing deer into the woods and not coming back for hours and then when they do they're covered in ticks and disgusting stuff they've found to roll in and making you want to just smack 'em. Then they expect to just jump into your bed with you. Not so fast, White Fang and Ring-Ting-Ting!

For this I expect to pay quite a lot of thoroughly visible money.

Question for the day, courtesy of the laserlike insight of a friend who lives in England: If good fences make good neighbors, do invisible fences make invisible neighbors?

Well, while we're waiting for Invisible Boy to show (Holy crap! Maybe he's already here!), let's all examine and learn from this Mission Statement from Perfidious Albion (Link to statement is upper left, top of left-nav). There is here a universal truth that should not be ignored.