Mark Allen's Top Six for 1/30/06:
This week I give you six small reports (and deeper links) of several not-so-famous crimes and their perpetrators. I'm willing to bet that many of these events and people have been hidden from your historical perspective for whatever reason. Some of these crimes are very real, and some are merely urban legend (can you spot the difference?), and a few of them lay somewhere in between. I submit them to you all in an attempt to accomplish four things: help you enjoy your lunch, sharpen your fear-based instincts, learn your history, and (most of all) help you get to know your neighbors a little better...
Donald "Angel of Death" Harvey
The "Mad Gasser" (aka: 'The Anesthetic Prowler' or 'Mad Anesthetist')
Kidnappers Cameron Hooker (and his family), and "The Girl in the Box"
The Axeman of New Orleans
Spring Heel Jack
Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka: "The Ken and Barbie Murder Team"
Mark Allen's Top Ten for 1/16/06:
Still from a film by Robert Hilferty
I Wrapped a Giant Condom Over Jesse Helms' House
In September of 1991, I participated in a political action with the members of TAG (Treatment Action Group - an off-shoot cell of ACT-UP) that involved wrapping a giant yellow inflatable condom over Jesse Helms' Arlington, VA home. The giant prophylactic replica had the words "A CONDOM TO STOP UNSAFE POLITICS: HELMS IS DEADLIER THAN A VIRUS" printed on the front of it, and was covering the top and front of his house for about an hour while members of the media photographed and filmed it and documented TAG's statements. After about thirty minutes of activity, with local residents gathering to see what was happening, the police calmly arrived amongst the media hubbub and ordered the condom to be removed, which we did. No damage was left on the residence, and we were not arrested (Helms ultimately decided not to press charges). The stunt was obviously reported in local and national news that afternoon.
It was a bright and sunny September day.
TAG's reasons for the action? To protest (and bring attention to opposition of) the Senator's reckless, politically driven public attacks on gays and lesbians, and his consciously stubborn, scornful stance on AIDS policies. In the late 80s and early 90s, Helms was one in a long line of mascots for what was perceived as the dimmest and loudest strain of far-right American conservative politics. He enthusiastically and openly encouraging legislature that symbolically mocked or punished gays, minorities, the poor, and the non-Christian. Although much of what Helms was doing was playing "bad cop" to the rest of the far right, he often gave a shot in the arm to Republican politics in arena of public discourse. It probably needed it because, at the tail end of George Bush Sr.'s presidential term, the Republican party was at a low point. Nevertheless, Helms reveled in attention-getting, manipulative political publicity stunts, which he later used as fuel for his policy-making stances in the Senate, which were very real.
Was Helms home when we did this? When planning the action we knew that fact would left up to chance; and he ended up being not there (however, we later learned that his very confused maid was hiding inside the whole time).
The Helms/condom action was the brainchild of Peter Staley, who used it to introduce his newly formed group TAG, which was formed with a handful of other ACT-UP alumni in 1991 (Staley was one of the original founders of ACT-UP in 1987).
Backing up a bit historically: ACT-UP was created by an inspired group of New Yorkers in the mid 80s, and it's goal was to awaken public and political perception of the AIDS crisis through direct action. Through a series of high-profile actions (on the floor of the NYSE, at the headquarters of the NIH and FDA, and ultimately inside St. Patrick's Cathedral), ACT-UP initially established itself as a controversial, but remarkably effective coalition for change by employing a cleverly re-thought approach to political activism that broke free from outdated 1960s templates and cleverly embraced a new media age.
I joined ACT-UP in 1990, and was heavily involved with them for about two years, participated in many demos and actions and doing work with a lot of their community work sub-groups. As stated, Staley had formed TAG in 1991 as a reaction to (and to break free from) ACT-UP as a whole - which by that time had grown so big that it's original vision had become thwarted by infighting, a hopelessly complex procedure system, and maddening dysfunction. About to leave ACT-UP myself, I became completely inspired by Staley's idea about wrapping Helms' house in a giant condom. And although I never became one of TAG's core members, I enthusiastically joined them for the Helms action, and two others after that.
Staley had done a few drive-by looks of Helms' Arlington, VA home with a member of Greenpeace who had experience in high end sophisticated civil disobedience techniques. They then used estimated measurements to have the giant condom made by a party novelty company in California. Then, with the condom made, we strategized the tactics, timing and supplies we would need during several meetings in Manhattan. Later we practiced unfurling the giant thing at a friend's huge backyard in New Paltz.
A week or so later, in the parking lot of a hotel in Virginia the day before the action, we practiced choreographing every movement again and again so the timing of the attachment of the giant condom to the house would be as swift (and unstoppable) as possible (more details can be found here).
The next morning started at a local diner where, over cinnamon toast, eggs and coffee, we discussed more last-minute choreography and tactical planning (based on early morning drive-by spy reports). We then set off...
Our swift arrival at Helms' residence (timed to coincide with a last-minute tip to, and arrival of the press by TAG's sly media guys) had us piling out of the vehicles, falling into place and subsequently assembling the condom onto the home. Some of us immediately climbed up onto second story roof using a high ladder, with the heavy bundled condom in tow (precisely folded so it would unfurl just right from the top), others started the portable (and loud as hell) generator on the ground to inflate the connecting tube once it came down from the roof, while others attached a few tethers to the ground. I had to climb onto the first story roof landing and attach the left half of the condom into place, held by a few tethers hammered into the ground with small plastic stakes.
One of the most important things we had to remember was not to disturb anything, or damage Helms' property at all. The only snafu I remember occurring (on my end) involved a little garden sculpture. When I hammered one of the stakes into the ground, I pulled the tether so it went *boi-io-io-nng!* and knocked over a small stone Spanish conquistador garden ornament that was propped politely next to some chrysanthemums in a flower bed next to his front door. I think that we had drilled into our heads "Don't damage anything... don't damage anything..." so many times that when the statuette fell over, I overreacted, yelping and running over to carefully place it back upright and rapidly pat dirt all around it, whispering "Oh god... oh god..." to myself the whole time. I felt like Paul Sheldon in the film "Misery," trying to carefully replace Annie Wilkes' little ceramic penguin in place undetected while snooping in her living room. My reverence was ironic considering what we were up to.
Even more ironic was the fact that in 1990, just a year earlier, I had actively protested against Helms with the art department at my University of North Texas (a fallout from the whole NEA/Mapplethorp debacle). If you had told me that twelve months later I would be trying to neatly replace a garden sculpture in the flower bed of his front lawn, I'd have thought you were yanking my bullwhip (zing!).
So after all this ran through my head during my little garden ornamental mishap, and after what seemed like mere seconds; the inflatable behemoth was in place, and the generator was switched off. After such attention to detail in the planning stages, our set-up of the whole thing went remarkably fast. All us and the reporters could do was stand back and listen to the birds and barking dogs of a sunny, suburban neighborhood street still waking up for the day (a sound that is actually complimented by the whir of cameras and the occasional reporter inquiry). While we all had eyes peeled for Helms, our collective attention was soon redirected by his curious neighbors, who began to wander out of their homes in bathrobes and slippers and slowly gravitate towards us like zombies in "Dawn of the Dead." Not surprisingly, we found them to be inquisitive, polite... even friendly, and perhaps slightly supportive. All except for one neighbor in that is...
A woman who lived a few houses down from Helms got wind of what we were up to, and wasted no time in stomping down the block and creating a huge, loud ruckus amongst what had so far been a surprisingly quiet, formal and somber affair. Wearing a baby blue jogging suit and sneakers with white golfing socks, this confirmed bachelorette marched into the scene, mad-as-hell and not gonna take it anymore. With the helpful inquisitiveness of Mrs. Kravitz from "Bewitched," and the multifaceted maw of Linda Blair from "The Exorcist," she started in; "What are you doing!? How dare you!" eventually using the tried and true; "We don't come to your homes and disrupt your lives!" then hitting us with the good 'ole; "You obviously have no respect for people's private property! This is irresponsible!" this all mixed with repeated and very loud expletives. Her shouting, stomping, Frankenstein-like gait seemed to be her normal mode of communication - appropriately, as she kind of looked like Herman Munster in a Dorothy Hamill wig. She soon became the focal point, and even tried to order the reporters around. At one point she pointed her finger in the face of a local newswoman who was writing on a pad of paper and shrieked; "Stop writing stuff down!" right before shoving her hand over the lens of filmmaker Robert Hilferty's camera and yelling "Get that outta my face!" When it dawned on us later that she was obviously the token "gay" on Helms' block, Helms' world view of homosexuals started to make more sense to us.
One thing I have learned about my years of civil disobedience and political activism is that, even though there is a lot of shouting and intense activity going on all around you, events amongst those immediately involved almost seem to go by as if scripted. The behavior amongst you and your fellow activists, as well as the behavior of the people you are targeting (and even the behavior of the police) often falls into almost formalized, predictable behavior patterns. It always ends up that the wacky, loud and unpredictable antics of outraged bystanders (an inevitability) will be the one thing that stays stuck in your memory bank long after the experience.
When the police did arrive, the first thing they did was to tell the anti-welcome-wagon-Nazi-lady (who charged over over to them shrieking and waving her arms) to "...please calm down ma'am!" The police then quietly observed the scene and asked who was in charge.
After all of the actions we had participated together and all the times we had been arrested in the past, we were sure we'd be locked up in the slammer awaiting a judge's hammer almost right afterwards. Needless to say were were surprised (as was a horrified Ms. FrankenKravitz) when the police simply asked us to remove the giant condom, then took down our names and addresses and asked us to pack all our stuff up and leave the premises (which we promptly did... the press also took our cue and split). It still wasn't even noon yet.
To this day, I can't remember if Peter still has the giant condom somewhere, or if it was confiscated by the police.
Afterwards, we even divided up into teams (we had even decided beforehand those expected to be arrested, and those not) so we could troll around in minivans to local news outlets and walk in unannounced, in the hopes of being interviewed when the story was picked up. This was a kind of a roll-of-the-dice media move, and was a clever (for it's time) move on TAG's part. We were welcomed with a warm greeting (oddly) at every station we went to when they realized we were the activists responsible for the stunt they had just read about on the AP wire). And even though they were all planning on reporting the story... no one actually wanted to talk to us in person on camera, which started to get really frustrating. I remember almost feeling like I was shopping with my mom as a little kid, being trudged from clothes store to clothes store (TV station to TV station), exhausted and cranky. During one surreal moment, one member of our group got into a bizarre physical altercation with a staff member of the station over some unrelated incident, just as two anchors were going live on the air for the 5 o'clock report from the brightly-lit set a mere 50 feet from us. At that point I really just wanted to go home.
And we did. It's fun to come home to your New York apartment in the evening and tell your roommates that you just got back from wrapping a giant condom over Jesse Helms' house, and have them wince their faces in disbelief - only to turn on the TV and, within the hour, watch their faces change as you all watch Ted Koppel do a small report on it.
The story was reported on the major news channels very briefly, usually with a "what a crazy world!" kind of angle at the end of the program. How could we really expect any serious comments from talking heads considering the tactics we used? Back then news outlets weren't exactly hungry for wacky political action stories with homo-centric leanings (If done today, I'm quite certain a photo and link to the story would have been enthusiastically featured on Drudge).
Helms ultimately decided not to press any charges, although he did mention us on the Senate floor a few times that year, as a chuckle-inducing antidote to the resistance he knew some of his policies were up against. It ended up being a nice, clean action with no hidden, messy jail time or court proceedings (excellent!) and a kind of wait-and-wonder ripple effect on our target, and the perceptions of his audience.
They key to a good demo of this sort is to break the rules enough so people can't help but pay attention to what you're doing, but not break them to the point where people hate you once they start paying attention to you. It's the old cliché of reformatting the solution to a problem that seems un-fixable when you think about it traditionally. We were aware of a viable threat to our well-being; Helms' very real and dangerous attack on gays and minorities within the Senate. It was an injustice that we felt powerless to meet at Helms' own level so, using a colorful stunt that could work through the media, we recontextualized our defense into a viable communicative form that was readable on many levels (although I keep using 'we,' I must give Peter and others credit for the idea). What TAG pulled (and what many of the most famous ACT-UP demonstrations pulled) would have been right at home as dreamed up by P.J. Soles when she took over the high school with The Ramones against a crusty old principle, while everyone cheered her on during the punk musical finale at the end of "Rock 'n Roll High School" (you may laugh at this analogy, but trust me - this is a valid litmus test for any visual political action seeking media attention). Don't think being slightly absurd isn't a viable form of real communication, it's often a very powerful one, and sometimes your only viable option when faced with the abyss.
Did what we did change things? Do these kinds of political actions make a difference in the real world? If there is a clear message attached to them, and they are clever enough to get seen at all, then the answer is an immeasurable, but in-arguable yes.
Jesse Helms has since (since around 2000) admitted that he was wrong, and changed his mind on his initial opinions about the AIDS crisis. He is now actually working for the cause in Africa, and encouraging Christians and churches to join him.
Although I was not a core member of TAG, I participated in other actions that were more specifically targeted towards entities within the medical and research field. In one action against price gouging by Astra Pharmaceuticals in Westborough, MA (where the core members chained themselves under the axils of trucks) I stupidly opted to carry in my bag a smoke bomb that Peter thought might come in handy for whatever reason. When the police found it after we were arrested, it was brought into evidence at the subsequent trial and I alone was left with a terrorist record in that state. I suppose that's the kind of thing I should be weirdly proud of today, but as I type this there's still one eye rolling back into my head.
Looking back I often find myself waffling back and forth, Sybil-like, in new admiration for some of the activist things I did that I thought seemed trivial at the time, and alternately embarrassed by activist things I did that at the time I believed were brazen triumphs. It's hard to tell what stimuli in my life in the 2000s is influencing my split behavior, or if it's just age.
But much of the gay and AIDS-related political activism I participated in during the early 90s I look back on with sincere pride; I felt like what I participated in helped grease the wheels of change and steered society in directions that it definitely needed to go in, or inevitably would have to. I'm happy to have been a part of this. But a few political actions I look back on differently. I'll never forgive myself for participating in ACT-UP's massive, expensive and ultimately pointless and message-less "Day of Desperation," in which I was part of a massive human barricade designed to stop foot traffic in Grand Central Station at the height of evening rush hour (a few brave commuters started breaking our blockades with fists-flying... can you blame them?) Eee-gads... I can't believe I did that (these were the kinds of actions that passed the vote in ACT-UP's doomed later days). They should have thrown away the key when they locked us up!
Like anything I guess, you remember the best parts when you're in a good mood, and the worst parts when you're in a bad one.
And it was impossible to see it clearly when I was doing these things, but I realize now what an oddly simple, more innocent time it all was. The late 80s and early 90s were a point that's cultural and media landscape made it easier to get points across with clever acts of civil disobedience, that didn't immediately drown in a dumb, loud universe of hot air and PR-driven soul-suck like they probably would today. The act of (clever) protest was still a viable form of communication.
But also, as I'm getting older I think I'm really starting to drift into the old cliché of behavior/judgement patterns that I swore I never reach; namely my concern (worry?) about today's younger generation. With some exceptions, there doesn't seem to be any true sense of rebellion, anger or even concern over blaringly obvious injustices in our country and in our world. Where are the angry young upstarts? The real ones? There' doesn't even seem to even be any underground anymore, even in culture. Today's kids seem gleefully zombified by corporate and industry-fueld comfort toys and shallow, garish entertainment industry tea toddling. Art and philosophy, even controversial history, has been all but wiped out from our public schools. How can kids think for themselves if they aren't inspired by some of history's greatest thinkers, philosophers, writers and artists? Does the fact that these icons significantly razzed the establishment obliterate the important value they teach about standing up for oneself and loudly stating how you really see things? How can kids become ingenious rebels if the real tools needed to do so have been replaced by weak plastic imitations with child-proof caps?
These things I did I did because I wanted to... badly. They came from deep inside of me. Having crazy demonstrations, getting thrown in the slammer, being punched in the face, screaming at people, being crafty and clever and getting together with others and trying to figure out smart ways to mock and trip up people and things that we thought were very bad, wrong and unjust - these were actions that came burning out of me, things that I couldn't rush to do fast enough. And I felt like once they shot out of me they would be unstoppable.
It's a thrill being a smart, annoying promulgator! It's really fulfilling to create politicaly motivated actions that try and change or bring attention to stuff that you think is very wrong! It's a blast to go against the grain of everything you think is stuffy and dumb, and shine an embarrassing spotlight on outdated modes or unspoken injustices (and I'm not just trying to inspire kids on the left either). It's damn fun to cause a ruckus and break shit (mindfully) and get arrested and have your elders (or enemy) wag their fingers at you and tell you how stupid and wrong and naive you're being and how you're only hurting your cause and how you'll realize how foolish you are when you're older (but knowing deep down that the whole point is to make them have to deal with you and your opinions). These kinds of illegal political actions are often bratty, over-reaching, and indeed naive... but they are needed: they act as sparks for change in the grand scheme of things. I sometimes feel like we've entered the 2000s and a part of the chain required for the advancement of mankind is missing.
Who knows, maybe this story will enter a mind or two.
There are other political activist experiences I suppose I could have written about, there are lots of goofy tales to tell. But for some reason I chose this bright yellow, inflatable, summer afternoon one because it just all seems so perfectly simple and wonderful, looking back on it now. I suppose (perhaps) that my cynicism about today's younger generation could be just a way for me to attach a sense of purpose to the halcyon days of my wild, reckless youth. I guess I'm just glad that I sometimes used a condom.
Clockwise from upper left: Mapping it out in Manhattan, Peter Staley steady on the second story roof, me on the first floor roof,
the gang afterwards, nearing inflation, Helms' crankiest neighbor nears inflation. - stills from a film by Robert Hilferty
Mark Allen's Top Ten for 1/9/06:
I've come to the realization that many of the inanimate objects in my apartment are in their autumn years. Like most old people, they have missed the chance to go out on top... so they have no choice but to just go on forever. But since we know that nothing lasts forever, I channel Mr. Blackwell and God to deliver my sinister, disrespectful, bitchy (but hopeful!) bets on what turns the hand of fate will bestow on the things in my apartment this year. Which inanimate objects have worn out their welcome for too long around here? Which will finally bite the big one in '06, and make the dumpster ring *ca-chung!?* Care to place any bets? Morbid I know - but fun! Remember: these things usually happen in in threes.
1. The Lava Lamp
Lava Lamp, have you no sense of irony sir, at long last? Do you know what really kicks your legendary status up a notch? That's right: death. We loved you the first time around, then for the revival. Then for the umpzillionteen revivals after that. But honey, your skin condition isn't what it used to be; so frighteningly transparent and smudged and scratched - who thought a piece of glass could look like a burn victim? Not to mention your life blood is more polluted than the water collecting in the bottom tube of those back-seat taxi air conditioners... you need some kind of cleansing solution rinsed through there (a final solution perhaps?). Darling, you used to be a party light but now you're a swamp! A bog... a fen... a G.D. ...oh forget it. They say the day you grow old is the day you soberly realize, with a straight face, that "Nostalgia isn't what it used to be."
2. My Land Line Phone
Hint to Land Phone Line: you know how the person in a horror movie who doesn't believe that there is any danger is always the fist to get killed? That's you.
3. The Blender
Blender, I know you've been coy about your real age, and you have every right to be (don't we all?) You were handed down by ancestors in my family who may as well have lived in caves according to the statistics I discovered when I looked up your make and model on the internet. You've had an good run, an amazing life, served well... and proven yourself a classic, living legend amongst trendy wannabes that came and went. That time you snapped and lashed out at me and sliced my fingers seemed hateful and violent at the time - but viewed through the sepia-toned rear-view mirror, why it was nothing less than charming. But that "Osterizer Pulse - Matic" logo you wear on your lapel, with the 1950's design and font... it was cutting edge for it's time... oops... let that slip, sorry, sorry, sorry. Sweetie, look - you've gone over the hill, all the way around the planet, and now are ascending it a second time! A final frapee? If the Terminator can melt himself in molten steel after he accomplishes his mission at the end of "Terminator 2," so can you. Perhaps you should skip the high-speed slice n' dice, and self-push the button all the way to the right - the one marked "obliterate."
4. My Red New York Yankees Baseball Cap
Dear old Red Yankees Baseball Cap... my reluctant crown. I realized the other day that I have owned you for over ten years. I know you've traveled all over the world, been in some pretty low places and also some pretty high ones. You've acted as a beacon on my many jogs, got me through some pretty bad hair years, and initiated some pretty awkward conversations between me and straight guys who assumed I knew the Yankees weren't a Canadian curling team. But let's face it; a microscopic view of your underside probably looks like Munchkinland. I think I'll wear you loosely during a windy day while driving really fast in a convertible, and let you kiss the sky one last time.
5. The Old Pair of Running Shoes
Oh... Old Pair of Running Shoes that I use in bad weather... how many holes do you have now? What are you trying to do, become lace? You know, Philip K. Dick has a unique concept of entropy in his book "Ubik." Instead of objects getting older and showing signs of wear and tear, they actually begin to transform back into older versions of themselves (as a radio gets older, it transforms from a modern transistor into an old Truetone tube model). Neat idea huh? Well, Dick may have had a fascinating mind, but his ideas were metaphysical gobbledygook philosophy. So unless you're planning on turning into a snazzy pair of 18th century pointy toed gold court boots with Louis XV tapered heels anytime soon, I think I may need to take you out for one last jog on the Williamsburg Bridge some rainy night. I'm bringing my rifle - and only one of us is coming back.
6. My Old Stereo System
Now Old Stereo System, I'm specifically talking about the older components of you. We all know your new neighbors the Amplifier and Equalizer and Tape Player and CD player are newer, much younger replacements. Brought in after your way outdated (or even nonexistent) friends passed on. But some of you, despite being held together by scotch tape and clothespins, are still a part of the team. I don't need to name names... you know which ones you are.
We all know it's heart wrenching to watch the later years of music groups like the Bee Gees, The Beatles and The Village People - where individual members drop off one by one... with long gaps in-between each. But just because your friends Equalizer and Amplifier are in fine health and glowing youth is no reason to drag them down with your old-ness. I mean, you're a team, yes... but come on!
If there's a house fire, do you think those young, heartless bastards are going to risk their own survival and help get you out of the building as you hobble and trip and cry out? Think again. You know those National Geographic documentaries that show really old members of a herd of animals knowing it's "time" and going off alone into the woods to die so as not to be a burden to the other members? Cruel yes... but it's instinct! Take note, lest you be like that other National Geographic documentary I saw where that pack of gorillas spontaneously and instinctually group attack members of their tribe who don't "fit in" (for whatever reason... ahem) violently killing them, ripping them to shreds, and eating their brains. Again... yes it's cruel I know, but this is behavior based on millions of years of evolutionary development. Don't want to scare you... I'm just sayin' that's all.
7. The Ultra Man Alarm Clock
Oh Ultra Man Alarm Clock, I got you on my first trip to Osaka. That was so exciting. It was also sooo... long ago. I know you spin around on the floor and shout in Japanese when you go off, yes, yes... I can also remember when I thought that was really very interesting. When Laura Wingfield's glass menagerie was shattered, didn't she just discard the pieces? Well my plastic Japanese anime menagerie has been beaten, chipped, dropped, scratched, scuffed and insulted... and then shattered. Several times. While I ponder whatever happened to my Jim O'Connor, I'll just discard the piece(s) anyway. Heeeey... I just realized that the Jim O'Connor character in Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie" was an analogy for the figure of death.
8. The Moldy Shower Curtain
Swiiiissshhhhhh... eeeaaauuuggghhh! Your infested, ragamuffin appearance and crunchy texture is an inexplicable persistence in my life. The impression you leave on other's who've dared go behind you? The most chill-inducing shower experience since Janet Leigh, and one that no amount of hot water can balm. I've scalded my own skin just to get enough steam between you and me to obscure your scaly plasticity from my eyes. *blegh!*
Your antics remind me of those frightening, publicity attracting, attention getting stunt addicted death defying celebrities. Secretly admired by many for their impenetrable life-force, seriously loathed by others for their lack of sense, but stared at and commented on by all... you seem to trip fate at every turn and send your detractors into maelstroms of frustration and resentment. Moldy shower curtain, your very existence is a musky duality; your green outer side says "fuck you!" while the other black side says "help me!" (the most intoxicating combination of all charm lures). I'd like to say this will be the year of your final curtain call... but things like you never seem to die, do you? When you're finally gone, will there be enough soap in the world to wash away the memory of you?
9. My Taxidermy Deer Head
Taxidermy Dear Head, do you read the Guinness Book of World Records with those marble eyes? Do you know how some people become famous just for being old? Like Chinese women who are 116? That's your territory. You've won! It's The Guinness Book of World Records junket book tour for you! You know what comes at the end of that particular publicity jaunt? Mmm-hmmm... yep: the grave (for you I guess it will be twice).
Even though your long neck looks pretty stiff, that crown you won for being so aged is getting mighty heavy for your neck to hold up isn't it? Any your eyelids? I know... I know... made of glass and stuffing, but also so heavy, so very heavy. Soooo... heavy. That's right... sleeeeep... go to sleeeep....
10. My Sense of Self Worth
My Sense of Self Worth: through repeated interaction with non-inanimate objects, this has repeatedly been seduced, entrapped, and then destroyed (all while I thought everything was just hunky-dory). But, thankfully, it has proven to be the most resilient thing around here. Nine lives? Try nine million. Apparently it's on a renewable-as-needed basis. Thank God. Do I predict it's death? Yep. Rebirth? Yes, yes and yes. It's like Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary visited Jesus' tomb on the second day and found the stone moved away and replaced it with a revolving door... and orgy of Easters!
Sad to say, I'm realizing that my sense of self worth has been sucked out of me and then renewed repeatedly just so other non-inanimate objects could gain one, perhaps temporarily. That's the strange thing about an individual concept of self worth (and an example of why it should be cherished and savored), by it's very nature it needs to be rationed because by it's very nature it is transitory... and non-discriminatory.
In a crowded room full of interacting human beings, there's never enough sense of self worth to go around - so people just keep passing the few intact ones back and forth amongst themselves. First it inhabits one body, then maybe the next, then back again, always using social cues as a signal. A sense of self worth is the most rapid and shape-shifting of social butterflies at a party, it's constantly on the move. It latches onto (into) other people, but they behave as the needy parasite. Of course, concepts of self worth can take on even stranger mutations when you wander into the realms of sociopathic behavior, psychic vampires, people who act as two-way mirrors, cult leaders, public figures and fascism.
But back to the matter at hand; mine and how I intend to keep it alive, again. If hell is other people then what is heaven? When you do get your sense of self worth back, it's good to lock yourself in your apartment away from other non-inanimate objects and surround yourself with inanimate ones for a while. No matter how much you judge, insult or toy with inanimate objects (or tell to 'drop dead'), they'll never try and steal your self worth from you because you're the only empty container in the room that's function is to contain one. Instead of being sucked out of you as retaliation, it will just keep refracting back to you, perhaps even at a stronger intensity. Wanting to be in a room surrounded with nothing but things is suspicious for your public reputation, but for that exact same reason is why it is one of the healthiest things for your inner mind. It's like a hall of mirrors with your ego as the glowing white hot supernova center, humming along and purring like a kitten. Recharging.
Mark Allen's Top Three for 1/2/06:
1. The human nervous system as an office building
The best way to describe the human nervous system? Compare it to an office job. A job where you work on a floor in a cubicle, amongst a sea of other cubicles. And all these cubicle farms are cached on many floors, that when stacked - make up a large skyscraper. The most important and powerful offices? On the top floors. The worker bees? In all the other parts of the building (where you are).
The human nervous system, and a multilevel corporate work environment run on the same types of information systems, schedules and hierarchies.
How do I know this? Because I'm in one right now, an office building that is. I'm actually hiding in the 14th floor custodian's closet of that very mega-corporation, writing this all down on memo paper with a little pen-light that came with a box of cereal I had for breakfast in the company cafeteria this morning. I am crouched down here, scribbling in near darkness, deeper inside a massive, multi-storied building that holds the corporate headquarters where I work, or well... might not work anymore. My boss (who's office is in the penthouse office of the top floor), is extremely angry with me for going over his head about some organizational and personnel decisions I was making in my department (which I am in charge of), and acting on my own.
I'm apparently fired now, and he's hired a rooting-out firm to find me and extract me from the company because he knows I'll resist. Or more likely, since he now sees me as an enemy, he probably thinks a good offense is the best defense... so I'm kind of playing along guess. Hiding and writing all this down for you while the boss' hired goons hunt me down is a good example of the analogy I am about to lay down for you, and may help me figure out how to escape being found out, terminated from the firm, and kicked out of the building. I don't want to cause trouble or make waves here at the company... things are too messy already. So here I sit, transcribing to you in the last moments of my existence... my existence as one tiny part of this body of concrete, steel, drywall, industrial carpeting and fluorescent lighting. This very structure that I once belong in, no... belonged to... and that is now about to get rid of me. I wonder if they'll find me? I wonder if I'll have enough time to tell you everything...
If you were to directly compare this building i'm in to my nervous system which lies deeper within me (in terms of scale), I would be hiding somewhere near my spleen. Looking outwards; my body itself, with it's working nervous system, is a minuscule replica of that corporate headquarters I am within. Yep, universes hidden within universes hidden within universes... backwards and forwards, the old Carl Sagan cliché.
For starters, I'll explain the actual real mechanics of the human nervous system expressed in layman's terms. The system as a whole is made up of two parts:
1. The CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM (or CNS, as I shall refer to it from this point on) is housed within the brain and spinal cord.
2. The PERIPHERAL NERVOUS SYSTEM (or PNS, got it?) is made up of everything else.
They work together. No, I mean they really, really work together. Large corporations should be so lucky as to run an information, production, service-providing and profit-making enterprise based on the deftness of the human body's nervous system, with it's infinite highways and limitless corridors of information processing efficiency.
The CNS is paid to think, while the PNS is paid to work. The CNS is housed inside the lush top floor offices of the brain and spinal cord (which have a lovely view) and spend their time processing and de-coding what the remainder of the nervous system, the PNS, gathers, records, and stores to send to it later - in a schedule that the two have worked out beforehand. The PNS is, obviously, housed within the lower cubicle farms, cafeterias and janitorial closets inhabited within the veins, muscles, organs and bowels that make up the rest of the body (strictly functional spaces). The PNS are the busy little worker bees constantly tasking and following orders, while the CNS sits upstairs and sends directions back out to the PNS and decides what to do with the information that comes back through it, and weighs that information with the PNS' observed behavior. The PNS and CNS may be robotic in their own respective ways (in various degrees according to time and circumstance), but together they make up an organic.
Now, to clarify some gossip that I've overheard in the company washroom: as I pointed out above, the spinal cord is essentially part of the CNS, but really it's just an over-paid, ass-kissing, PNS-er that acts as a glorified conduit for information meant to the real meat of the CNS; the brain (everybody in the office knows this but of course no one says anything). It's just that the spinal cord is so close up there to the boss, and spends so much time near it, that it gets lobbed in with the CNS's crew. Of course, I'm sure it does what it can to keep the brain thinking that it is somehow protecting it from the riff-raff of the PNS (lie!). The spinal cord is PNS, darling... through and through, no matter how it tries to dress up, or what kind of airs it thinks it's putting on. It's like Mr. Smithers' relationship to Mr. Burns on "The Simpsons." We all know the spinal cord is that sniveling, sycophantic, ass-kissing boss wannabe that we have all know at one time or another while working in offices; placed by luck in close proximity to the boss, and ready to do anything to protect it's position. We know what's really going on: it's got it's head all up inside the brain's rectum (literally!) all kissing and sucking and massaging it and getting it's nose a million shades of brown and saying "Here brain, here's some more lovely info from all the underlings downstairs, can I massage your cells and rub your neurons while I regurgitate it to you?" and the brain is all like "Yes OK whatever thank you." I mean, who does the spinal cord think it's kidding? The brain is just stringing the spinal cord along because, as the brain knows (naturally) and the spinal cord does not (duh!) the spinal cord will never, ever be able to usurp the brain and take it's place. But the brain needs the spinal cord for various reasons, so it just keeps letting it get all up inside it so it can use it. So distressing, really... isn't it? Unlike Eve Harrington who eventually usurped Margo Channing in the film "All About Eve," the spinal cord, sadly, will never accomplish the goal that most boss's assistants sometimes do. It will never be the brain. Born PNS, die PNS. Your body is a cruel place isn't it?
OK, so even though we all know the spinal cord is just a sycophantic PNS, for the practical purposes of this example the spinal cord is categorically CNS.
Now, back to the matter at hand: the PNS in the body always knows that the CNS is boss. It knows this informally by understanding, but at it's root by the nature of it's very existence. It must do what the CNS tells it to - the PNS worker's existence is function, and it is subservience, and to rebel against that is to stop existing. Without it's "place" apart from the CNS, the entire body and system would fail.
There are times however, when the CNS and PNS act as one equal entity, collectively in the pursuit of one goal (and no, it's not the annual office Christmas party, where the two entities reluctantly get together and pretend to like one another - which only strengthens the walls separating them). These instances are swift, explosive, unexpected moments when the system of defining borders and ceilings vanish for a micro-second in the quest for one goal. And when do these swift moments occur? When the body as a whole is unexpectedly threatened. It's kind of like a disaster movie where several people of different classes, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds are forced to ban together as equals in the quest for survival during a crisis.
If you see a wasp land on your arm, your PNS has just told your CNS this information. Whether or not you slap your other hand down on top of it and kill it, or let it live, is the choice of your CNS. The PNS just sends the information along, waits, and then carries out the orders about whether or not to slap it or, perhaps shoo it away and let it live (for karmic reasons which the CNS would have specified).
Even more revealing: lets say this wasp landed on your arm without the PNS knowing. Then let's say the wasp stung your arm. Technically, the PNS does send the information to the CNS for processing and waits for instructions. But, the action is so fast that the difference between the CNS and PNS blend into one swift, blinding resolve: EXTERMINATE THE THREAT. The CNS doesn't get bogged down in red tape (conscious rational and weighing of morality) and think "Well, the wasp is a simple animal and only doing what comes naturally, and I should let all living animals be as I'm a buddhist." It just tells the PNS to destroy what is causing the intense pain, which is most likely a menace (or at least feared as one). Int appears that the PNS almost overrides CNS habit of "meeting" and "group thinking" decisions... and just pulls things forward and goes for the goal, but the CNS is in control of all of this. It's just that the borders between the two in that moment become irrelevant. They pull together, or at least appear to pull together as one for a primitive, animalistic bulls-eye stab at surviving. Even someone who refuses to kill a wasp, even one that has just stung it, cannot control (without great mental preparation) the swift impulse to slap or pull away or jerk. The human nervous system under swift stress does not suffer sensitive or intellectual types in war time.
So, during moments like this, everyone from the higest-paid executive in the luxury suit offices of the upper cranium to the lowly mail room clerk in the small intestine come together as one efficient, non-partisan super weapon of efficiency and swiftness - with no internal structure (just one very simple switch that operates in only two modes; 'on' and 'off'). If elements and conditions (and luck) outside the body are in agreement, the CNS and PNS acting as one usually get their way. It's an admirable revolution of sorts, actually.
But unfortunately, right after the threat and ensuing class revolution, the simple, efficient device that the two had become becomes complex once again; with it's endless internal structure and hierarchy. A bad reality? Nope, because without these complex structures and hierarchies in the long-term... the body as a whole ka-put.
The swift efficiency of the PNS and CNS working as equals in a threat should only come together in emergencies. Otherwise, they should work as usual... with all the bullshit politics and ridiculous red tape and some-people-being-better-than-others-just-because and egos (just like an office). This is just the way things are.
Imbalances in the system can unfold during other situations as well. When the CNS doesn't have enough to do... dysfunction on a massive scale can set in. The CNS can start to anticipate fear responses before they are even there. It can start to send messages to the PNS to tell the glands to sweat, or tell the intestinal tract to create processes to make the CNS feel nauseous. Why? It's thinking too much... it's sending the PNS all into a tizzy because it's anticipating things that may indeed not happen, or even exist at all. This is normal, like feeling like you're going to throw up before going on stage for the first time, or stuttering when you're introduced to that person you've had a crush on for months. Your CNS screws up the normal efficiency of your PNS by over-thinking and over-guessing what is needed or routine in certain situations. Without visiting the nitty gritty real world that the PNS deals with daily, at least once in a while, naive, paranoia and fantasy-based decision making processes set in and the whole thing becomes poisoned. Your CNS cannot afford to live in an ivory tower away from your PNS. In these situations, the strange thing is that it would almost be better for the PNS to just take matters into it's own hand. Your PNS would do best to handle going on stage for the first time, or meeting that crush by itself, without the CNS' help (in this state). But that's impossible because without your CNS, you would just be a PNS (a jelly blob) - and wouldn't that be sad? Plus, even beyond that... the fact remains that, no matter how screwed up a CNS becomes, it will never allow the PNS to usurp power from it, ever. And if the PNS really wants to infiltrate the CNS and start a war against it and overtake it, victory for the PNS would mean death, because death for one would be death for both. So... for your PNS to be sent into over-drive by your CNS in tense situations is normal, it keeps your body on it's toes and, in an ironic twist, shows the CNS by example it's own fallibility. This develops character which is good for your ego (which is kind of like an invisible God that secretly controls the CNS), which it knocks down a peg, in order to keep it from running amok and making all kinds of stupid decisions based on fantasy logic. See how it all connects?
This ego balance thing can also swing too far in the other direction: when the ego that controls the CNS is taken down and disrespected too much, and at a very low point (for whatever reason, usually from factors coming from outside the body as a whole), it can send even weirder directions to the PNS (as listed above, inappropriate sweating, nausea) so as to give something for it to react to and control, something that it knows it can handle. It can create these little (or big) internal "dilemmas" in the office so as to come down and throw it's weight around and feel more in command, so it feels like it has a handle on something. It works, but is very unhealthy for the corporation as a whole because, much like the ivory tower-syndrome, the CNS begins to live in an entirely internalized world, and the PNS crumbles under it's direction.
Dysfunctional company overrun too long by a lack of checks and balances that result in gonzo politics that cause ridiculous reactions and decisions to be made upstairs? The same thing is happening in a human body that suffers from anxiety or mental disorders, or even physical disease in some cases. With the CNS given too much free reign and the PNS with very little to do, or too much... things spark up and go haywire.
How well does upper management know the problems and conflicts facing the lower working levels? How in tune is the CNS with the PNS workers? Maybe your brain should spend a shift or two sloshing around next to your liver to see how things are really operating, rather than getting all it's information in memo form from that bootlicking spinal cord (oooh how I hate him!).
I would continue, but the door to the closet I'm hiding in just opened and I have to stop writing. They're here. The rooting-out firm that the top brass from CNS hired to find me, has done just that. They're wearing white uniforms and have on cloth face masks, and have metal instruments. All my coworkers don't even seem to notice at all what's going on... like me getting kicked out of the company is all part of the process. All I wanted to do was set up my own little branch on one of the floors here, to get some stuff that I was in charge of taken to - you know, another level. Expand things a bit. Is that so wrong? I know it would have upset things, and interrupted the "flow" somewhat, but I was using materials and resources from within the company. Alright, you know, whatever... from my perspective it was very much the right thing to do. I had my own ideas I guess.
OK, they're hauling me out to the ground floor now, they're handling me swiftly, I'm practically being dragged. They're telling me that I'm never allowed back into the building, ever.
2. My resolution for 2006? Surviving attack!
I'm welcoming 2006 with a newly renewed sense of realizing it's better to be paranoid than dead, and waving goodbye to 2005 from inside the locked trunk of a car, my arm sticking out of the hole where I kicked the tail light out. My resolution for 2006? Surviving attack! That's right! I'm toasting a champagne flute with one hand, but keeping my alternate foot planted squarely on the ground so as to properly maintain my Tan Tien (my martial arts center of power). Don't reach out to hug me in celebration of the new year - lest I use my index and middle finger to gouge the top parts of your eyes with my "cobra's snap." *Sssss! Ssssss!* That's right. All year long I'll be "frosty" but also "like water" as I master the art of Bruce Lee's "one inch kill punch" with my elbow, and work on my zig-zag running pattern (to escape people who might start shooting at me). You may laugh... but when I'm king of the mountain of skulls you'll be sorry! Whether being abducted by Al Queda terrorist cells, drowned in a bathtub by psychopathic child-murdering Texas moms, being driven off the road by drug-crazed teeth-grinders in a traveling crystal meth lab on the back roads of Pennsylvania, or having my sense of decency assaulted by blasphemously inappropriate home Christmas decorations... I'll be ready.
Did you know it's always been my secret dream to be a famous serial killer? If you're a regular reader of mine, I'm guessing you've probably collected enough information from my work to draw that very conclusion yourself. In fact, maybe you're that person who called the cops on me. Although fortunately for me, no one can be arrested for mere suspicion of being a deranged killer (just ask the very frustrated James Stewart in Hitchcock's 'Rear Window'), in the same way no one can earn the Nobel Prize because some people "think" they may be a genius. No string of random corpses with your DNA all over them? No arrest. No identifiable patent numbers in the fields of Physics, Chemistry, Physiology, Medicine, Economics or Peace? No big bronze disc with Alfred Bernhard Nobel's mug on it handed to you in Oslo. It's as simple as that.
Even though I am in the precise socio-economic classification of a serial killer, and fit the personality type to a "T," I'm unfortunately drifting out of the statistical age group. I guess I'm just "too old" now. *sigh...* The only route left for me? The VICTIM! That's right. I can no longer be the performer (the killer) so I'll just have to be the audience (the victim). Hmmm... actually, the public at large is the serial killer's audience... I guess the victim is in on the act, like a co-star or something.
Anyway, I found this very random but very provocative list of assault survival tips (intended for women), posted on Lady Bunny's excellent blog. Even though it was filled with the usual (rather dramatic) scare tactics, I found it to be insightful, and many of the suggestions thought provoking. I explored a few more websites that give tips on surviving similar situations in greater detail (see below).
And thanks to these tips, ironically, I'll probably be a much more efficient and organized and productive violent attacker, mugger, murderer and kidnapper. Maybe I'll make the serial killer circuit after all.
Here they are:
1. Tip from Tae Kwon Do: The elbow is the strongest point on your body. If you are close enough to use it, do!
2. Learned this from a tourist guide in New Orleans. If a robber asks for your wallet and/or purse, DO NOT HAND IT TO HIM. Toss it away from you... chances are that he is more interested in your wallet and/or purse than you, and he will go for the wallet/purse. RUN LIKE MAD IN THE OTHER DIRECTION!
3. If you are ever thrown into the trunk of a car, kick out the back tail lights and stick your arm out the hole and start waving like crazy. The driver won't see you, but everybody else will. This has saved lives.
4. Women have a tendency to get into their cars after shopping, eating, working, etc., and just sit (doing their checkbook, or making a list, etc. DON'T DO THIS!) The predator will be watching you, and this is the perfect opportunity for him to get in on the passenger side, put a gun to your head, and tell you where to go. AS SOON AS YOU GET INTO YOUR CAR, LOCK THE DOORS AND LEAVE. If someone is in the car with a gun to your head DO NOT DRIVE OFF, repeat: DO NOT DRIVE OFF! Instead gun the engine and speed into anything, wrecking the car. Your Air Bag will save you. If the person is in the back seat they will get the worst of it. As soon as the car crashes bail out and run. It is better than having them find your body in a remote location.
5. A few notes about getting into your car in a parking lot, or parking garage:
A.) Be aware: look around you, look into your car, at the passenger side floor, in the back seat.
B.) If you are parked next to a big van, enter your car from the passenger door. Most serial killers attack their victims by pulling them into their vans while the women are attempting to get into their cars.
C.) Look at the car parked on the driver's side of your vehicle, and the passenger side. If a male is sitting alone in the seat nearest your car, you may want to walk back into the mall, or work, and get a guard/policeman to walk you back out. IT IS ALWAYS BETTER TO BE SAFE THAN SORRY. (And better paranoid than dead.)
6. ALWAYS take the elevator instead of the stairs. (Stairwells are horrible places to be alone and the perfect crime spot. This is especially true at NIGHT!)
7. If the predator has a gun and you are not under his control, ALWAYS RUN! The predator will only hit you (a running target) 4 in 100 times; And even then, it most likely WILL NOT be a vital organ. RUN, Preferably in a zig-zag pattern!
8. As women, we are always trying to be sympathetic: STOP. It may get you raped, or killed. Ted Bundy, the serial killer, was a good-looking, well educated man, who ALWAYS played on the sympathies of unsuspecting women. He walked with a cane, or a limp, and often asked "for help" into his vehicle or with his vehicle, which is when he abducted his next victim.
9. Another Safety Point: Someone just told me that her friend heard a crying baby on her porch the night before last, and she called the police because it was late and she thought it was weird. The police told her "Whatever you do, DO NOT open the door." The lady then said that it sounded like the baby had crawled near a window, and she was worried that it would crawl to the street and get run over. The policeman said, "We already have a unit on the way, whatever you do, DO NOT open the door." He told her that they think a serial killer has a baby's cry recorded and uses it to coax women out of their homes thinking that someone dropped off a baby. He said they have not verified it, but have had several calls by women saying that they hear baby's cries outside their doors when they're home alone at night. Please pass this on and DO NOT open the door for a crying baby - This e-mail should probably be taken seriously because the Crying Baby theory was mentioned on America's Most Wanted this past Saturday when they profiled the serial killer in Louisiana. I'd like you to forward this to all the women you know. It may save a life. A candle is not dimmed by lighting another candle. I was going to send this to the ladies only, but guys, if you love your mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, etc., you may want to pass it onto them, as well. (NOTE: this last colorful entry has proven to be nothing more than an urban legend, and a story like this never appeared on 'America's Most Wanted,' see here - but pretty damn creepy, right?)
UPDATE: speaking of Snopes.com, reader Dio sent me this link, which tears the entire above list to shreds (sort of).
Also, I dug up some similar lists and write-ups here:
How best to navigate and survive if you are kidnapped here and here. How to survive if you're a kidnapped businessman here. How to survive a hi-jacked commercial airline here. How to survive a hostage situation here. How to avoid being killed by the police here. How to lose someone who is following you in a car or on foot here. How to survive a violent attacker if you are a Christian and are worried about "turning the other cheek" here. Whole selections from "The Worst Case Scenario Handbook" here.
3. The weight of Christian Bale in Werner Herzog's upcoming "Rescue Dawn"
Thanks to reader Rich for pointing out to me that Actor Christian Bale has thankfully slimmed (back) down to an incredibly hot, emaciated weight for Werner Herzog's upcoming film "Rescue Dawn" (which is based on Herzog's own 1997 documentary 'Little Dieter Needs To Fly').
I lost a little respect for Bale after he recently buffed-up to a horribly unflattering chiseled, muscular physique for the film "Batman Begins" (the same regrettable look he featured in 'American Psycho'). It appeared for fans of Bale's mind-blowingly sexy anorexic death camp appearance, as featured in the excellent "The Machinist," that it might have been just a passing phase for the actor. But it's back! I'm fascinated all over again! In "Rescue Dawn," Bale plays a Vietnam prisoner of war.
Losing the shorn, goatee-ed look that oh-so complimented his gorgeous skull-face in "The Machinist," Bale this time has opted for longer hair and a scraggly, thin long beard (he kind of resembles that filthy homeless guy that looks too young to be homeless and always hangs around outside of the drug store in any town). And according to the trailer, Bale also employs the spider-y, knuckle-dragging sway that caused audiences to swoon at "The Machinist" (at least I did).
*sigh...* I can't help but fantasize when I see Bale like this (note to Jim: stop reading here). I imagine the emaciated Bale and me not having dinner by candle light, smoking five packs of cigarettes and playing a fascinating game of Twister! in our loose underwear.
You know I'm still waiting for male anorexia to take off in the world of popular culture. While female anorexia and bulimia still has a stranglehold on the female population (male cases make up roughly %5 - %1 of the total), any fashion and entertainment industry insider will tell you that skinny girls are essential for those respective businesses - which has an obvious effect on the culture and society at large (and gives gossip magazines something to snitter about). But why do we never see male celebrities being tossed around the gossip rags as possibly having an eating disorder? Why do we never see dangerously super-skinny male celebrities at all? If popular culture can't lead then how can I ever expect the rest of the world to follow? I guess Bale is a trailblazer of sorts.
Jerry Seinfeld said that one plus of being a gay male couple is that you instantly double your wardrobe. But being a gay male anorexic couple - you quadruple your wardrobe! Not only can you share each other's clothes, but you the two of you are so slim that you can also fit into clothing items intended for one... both of you in one pair of pants, both of you in one t-shirt. Romantic and economical! The possibilities are as endless as a white porcelain tunnel.
I'll be attending a screening of "Rescue Dawn" the day it opens... and will be saving lots of money at the concession stand.
Copyright 2006 Mark Allen
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