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NEW ORLEANS - 10 June, 2004 : I'm doing something I haven't done in over two years now; I intend to produce this entire column "on-the-fly," as the colloquialism goes, in one sitting, on the day of publication.
I did that back in the early days of this publication but have become more self-conscious about what you read here since. None of that today. I used what little time I had this week editing and designing the remainder of the site. The past two weeks of my life have been such that I made not a single diary entry. I was attempting to focus on The Book (the on-going "Glass House" book.) Besides, today I am just in from working construction in our city's 91 degree heat and sweating my vital bodily fluids away. There's no time for niceties.
FIRSTLY, I SHAN'T SAY A WORD about the subject that is predominantly on the minds of the Mouthpiece Media (MM) this week. It's too soon. Besides, I have already queued two pieces from other contributors here on the topic. There are other places on and off the Web ( The Nation, for example, or GregPalast.com) where you can get points of view other than hagiography. I've queued the two articles for G21 until our 28 June edition because I believe that's the correct course for this publication.
Instead, I've decided to divide this week's outing into two parts. The first part, already commenced, will be topical and (slightly) personal. The second will be a bit of a preview for you, my little loves, of the work-in-progress.
I think it bears out much of the hype we give you about being au courant and (occasionally) prescient here that within a week of our featuring the interview with Brazilian director Hector Babenco, headlines around the world were trumpeting the news of a prison riot in the Argentinean's adopted country. You can read more about that subject here.
I've taken the liberty, for the first time in the history of the magazine, of opening up our most recent Readership Poll to everyone visiting the magazine, as you'll see on our VOX POPULI page this edition. In the past, I've restricted our polls exclusively to members of our e-mail Mailing List. In the interests of this particular poll, I wanted to get more general feedback about what we've been attempting to accomplish this year. I'd appreciate it if you took the time to e-mail me your feedback. Thanks in advance!
ONE OF THE MORE INTERESTING THINGS I READ while away from you, my dear, was in a piece by Joe Conason, over at Salon.com. I tried to stay well-informed, but I have to admit that my jaw dropped when I read the following passage from Mr. Conason's excellent article:... And the same shortsighted, highly ideological decision making seems to have affected the staffing of the Coalition Provisional Authority.
According to a remarkable article in the Washington Post, the CPA selected a number of utterly inexperienced young conservatives to oversee critical aspects of Iraq's reconstruction. Apparently these youthful idealists were chosen solely because their resumés had been posted on the Web site of the right-wing Heritage Foundation. (Such clumsy political vetting is ironically reminiscent of the ultra-left origins of the neoconservative movement.)
The results of their excellent adventure were predictably poor, as important aspects of the struggling nation's finances were turned over to the likes of Todd Baldwin, a former legislative aide to Sen. Rick Santorum; John Hanley, an editor of the Heritage Foundation Web site; and Simone Ledeen, the d aughter of Iran-Contra figure Michael Ledeen, whose resumé featured her role in founding a cooking school. Despite their obvious lack of qualifications, all were hired without so much as an interview or a background check ...
Let me get this straight: We have the ticklish situation of the unplanned nation-building project in Iraq and among the staffers responsible for this daunting task is a former cooking school headmistress? Naw, tell me it isn't so!
Conason's article provides very compelling chapter and verse on the incompetence that's been involved in the Iraq project by this administration. It makes for some harrowing reading.
I also took it upon myself, during the break, to dash off a quick e-mail to the Public Editor of the New York Times. By now you've heard about their latest missteps -- in promoting the war and many of the Administration's claims about Iraq with checking their sources -- especially in the case of their reporter Ms. Judith Miller. There was an outcry among many of we journos about Miller's performance and a subsequent apology by the Times for its (many) misleading or just-plain-wrong stories during the lead up to the war. (Ms. Miller was never mentioned in this latter public apology.)
I wrote the following to Mr. Daniel Okrent, the NYT Public Editor, after reading his column, "Weapons of Mass Destruction? Or Mass Distraction?":Date: Sun, 30 May 2004 11:29:33 -0500
From: Rod Amis
Subject: Your 30 May Column
I am writing to commend you on today's column. It was well-spoken and raises issues about the culture at the Times that have been a concern of mine for years. As part of PBS's WebLab "Reality Check" project some years ago, I wrote an Open Letter to the NYT regarding its coverage of the Cambodian elections, which my own publication also covered. The results of our reports were so divergent that I had to wonder whether the reporter in question ever left his hotel room and I said as much.
Make no mistake about it, as Ms. Miller's reporting and the Times editorial decisions leading up to the war in Iraq make the rounds from Salon, to Slate, et cetera, this subject will have a more damaging impact than even the Jason Blair affair.
Even after Wednesday's apologies, the sense is that the Times (and especially Ms. Miller) will not change its culture or attitude. So much's the pity.
As with the Jayson Blair affair, which I reference in the e-mail, the Times once again faces the charge of having an editorial culture imbued with the arrogance of its status as the "newspaper of record" for the United States. That arrogance has repeatedly, during the last decade, led the organization to believe that it is infallible and led to its getting egg on its face. Oddly, these repeated missteps and totally inaccurate stories have failed to have any effect on the Times view of itself. In the case of its reporting leading up to the war in Iraq, by its now belated admission, the New York Times ran stories that had NO BASIS IN FACT. Because those stories appeared in "the Great Gray Lady" they were parroted by other U.S. local newspapers from coast-to-coast. That means that the Times was directly responsible for millions of Americans being completely misinformed. I take this kind of MM behavior very seriously and consider it almost criminally wrong.
Every waking moment when not working some shit-ass job that pays peanuts, fretting about paying my rent and bills, wondering where the next meal would come from, or responding to the plaints of the other writers here, I have spent working on the proposed "Glass House" book. The agent is still waiting for it and other contacts of mine have ideas of their own about
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- whether it should be a single mammoth volume or doled out as a trilogy;
- whether I should (only) wait out a sale to a traditional publisher or;
- use one or another of print-on-demand services that are here on the Web and do it as both a paperback and e-book, independently, in order to build a "buzz" to attract a large house while getting a larger cut of sales in the promotional period, and;
- whether my strategy of building the book around cities, rather than people, is a good one.
I take all of this input under advisement and keep pounding out the words. I am four cities and a number of individuals in at this writing. I'm well over 90,000 words and have at least another 100,000 burbling inside me for their own release.
I'll close this diary entry with a brief preview:From "My Glass House, The Book", Chapter Four - "Virgin Beach/Vagina Beach"
[NOTE: Ellipses (" ... ") indicate that I have edited out substantial sections of the rough draft for purposes of length in this column. -- RA]
When I began this confessional book, I did not include the city of Virginia Beach, Virginia (then called "The World's Largest Resort City") in my outline. I had decided that I simply had nothing of value to say about the place. Though many believed that I had triumphant experiences there and germinated as a writer -- that was and is only a public view. I had some of the worst experiences of my life there, including the violent conclusion of an unhappy childhood and the experience of some of the most oppressive and insulting racism I've ever encountered.
Writing was my retreat from many of the horrors of that place and the life I had there. Writing or reading.
My family moved to Virginia Beach -- the rural section of the city, very near the oft' maligned city of Pungo and the posh area of beach h ouses on stitlts called Sandbridge -- your last populated stop before the North Carolina border -- when I was about ten years old. This because my father was finally realizing his lifelong dream of owning a farm. My father had always wanted to own a farm because his own father had done so. He told us that a man needed to own his own land. He told us, my brothers, sister and I, that this land would be our legacy. He went on about his will a lot.
His assertion turned out to be a lie. I had heard that we would never see the promised real estate from my youngest brother, Nicholas ("Nick"), while I lived in Baltimore after leaving Manhattan. I c hose not to concern myself at the time, as it was a moot point until my mother died. When my mother finally did leave the realm of the living, in October, 2003, I learned that NIck had been right. Rumor has it that he intends to litigate for his birthright. I have neither the resources nor the energy. Besides, the only use I have for any inheritance in Virginia would be to sell it for the proceeds. I despise the place and would spend extra money to avoid going there for any reason ...
... Here is what happened: I was already spending as much time as I could away from home. I was immersed in every extracurricular activity I could be in school. While attending high school, I held almost every office in the student government, culminating with being elected President of the student body; I was writing plays that were being produced by the drama club every year from ninth grade forward, three of which would win the state Drama competitions and one of which would appear in a local dinner theater; I was captain of the debate team for two years running; a member of the drama and pep clubs; I worked on the school newspaper and the year book (senior year). After winning the second state Drama competition, I received a scholarship to attend a summer theater workshop at Georgetown University which changed my entire take on theater and how I wanted to present my work. I wrote poetry extensively, at that point, as well as plays, and was dabbling with the novel. I made it a point to stay as far away from my father as possible. When not busy with all my other obligations, not writing or reading, I was off to visit friends who lived in the suburban part of the city -- the new White people in my life who thought I was a prodigy, and especially Sam Hallock, a woman who was having a great impact on my life and thinking at the time and for decades afterwards. (We'll talk about Sam later. She's a special case. A "story" woman,)
... Were you to visit Floyd E. Kellam High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA, it is likely that you would notice stone benches in the grassy areas of the outdoor part of the campus -- unless they have fallen victim to vandals over the last thirty years, a reason I chose stone. I don't recollect if they are inscribed with a legend saying that I commissioned to have them put there, but it would not surprise me, considering how meglomanical I was at the time. I was obsessed, during the latter part of my high school years, with receiving the love of the masses. And I had the wherewithal, by way of the student council budget, over which I had dictatorial control, of buying that love. I once told Sam (Hallock) that I had concluded that having the love and adoration of hundreds (or thousands) was the equivalent of having the love of a single person, something of questionable duration.
This student council budget I have mentioned was the largest in the history of the school and may still be the largest any single high school student body president has ever amassed. There is a simple reason behind that assertion: I had established an organization during my junior year, when I held the office of Vice President of the student council (and had orchestrated to have my best friend elected President, because of an incipient movement among the senior class of that year to keep me from becoming a "dictator, ") that included all of the high schools in the city.
During my senior year, when I was also President of this organization, I imposed a tax on all those other high school councils' budgets in order to finance a brainstorm I had had while summering in Georgetown: Senior Day. My tax was ten percent of all the funds the other schools raised from fees, bake sales, car washes, et cetera. Being a Machiavellian child, I already knew that Senior Day -- an event during which high school seniors would take over elective offices in the city and I would stage a concert at the local auditorium into which all members of that year's senior class could get in free -- would never exhaust the funds being levied. I can now admit, considering the statute of limitations, that I used a portion of those funds to establish my legacy (as with the benches) at my high school and to fete my political favorities (or people in the "In" crowd from whom I needed favors) with lunches and such.
This sounds nice until we consider one fact: I was functionally homeless at the time many of these machinations were taking place. I was embarrassed about my father's attempted murder of myself, so it was not the type of thiing I wanted to discuss with my peers, or even close friends like Sam. (Henceforth, we can refer to Ms. Hallock as "Sam," I believe.)
I slept in the woods for a number of weeks, sneaked to school early to use the showers in the gymnasium and went about my daily routine as though everything was as it had been. I had my image to protect, after all, and as an adolescent "image" was my paramount concern. I was about to run for student body president against another student who had been my chief intellectual competitor throughout high school. Only thirty percent of the students in our school were Black. There had never been a Black president of the student body and I meant to be the first and foremost.
And then there was the situation with the principal of the place. It was as though the Fates had put he and I in each others paths. Here I was the best known Black student in the city. Through my organization of high schools, I had a pipeline to the school board, I was on a first name basis with the mayor's secretary ("Secretaries rule the world," I used to quip) in preparation for Senior Day. I even did things like send the womann gifts from my slush fund. I had built a solid political base, in other words, not only in my high school -- the largest in the city at the time -- but beyond it.
But I had a principal whose name happened to be JEFFERSON DAVIS. For those readers unfamiliar with the history of the United States, Jefferson Davis was the President of the Confederate States of America, the rebels who had fought this country's civil war at the time Abraham Lincoln was President of the United States of America. My principal proudly displayed a framed picture of the Confederacy's President on his office wall so that people might admire (?) their resemblance. For all I know, he was a descendant of the rebel leaderš
So even as I moved to gain more leverage and power in our school, Mr. Davis was there to clip my wings. He attempted to suspend me != often with justification for my changing things by fiat and beyond any authority I might actually have had != on numerous occasions and was usually thwarted. I was holding too many cards by the time I reached his radar screen.
One classic example of when he was within his rights was the day I abolished our high school's dress code. I had no right or authority to do so. It happened during one of the monthly campus-wide assemblies I had instituted with all of the students to present entertainments, propaganda for my agenda and have a "town hall" type gathering to hear their concerns. This was the '60s and most students thought the student council (any student council, in those days) was bullshit. As I had chosen that organization as the staging ground for my power base, I was determined to prove them wrong.
The grievance that came up on this particular day was the dress code at our high school. The code was uniformly administered at every high school in the city and discouraged what was then considered the "hippie" look. It was, in fact, enforced by the teachers and staff and onerous. Even though I was the type to wear a necktie to school almost every day by this time, I considered it a legitimate grievance. What did clothes have to do with learning? So, in that particular assembly, I announced to the students of my school that the dress code was abolished, effective immediately. I was a hero.
Jeff Davis had me in his office and on the carpet before the end of the day. What the hell did I think I was doing? What made me think I could take such a decision?
My response: I just did. Tomorrow morning kids will come to school dressed as they like. You can't suspend them all.
But he could suspend me. After leaving his office, I was on the phone to my contact at the school board ...
... At the north end of the oceanfront strip of the city of Virginia Beach, on the landward side, stands the large buildings which house the Edgar Cayce Foundation, known as the Association for Research and Enlightenmentt (A.R.E.) Cayce was a famous mystic who predicted that Atlantis would rise, Virginia Beach would one day be a movie capital to rival Hollywood and that Phoenix would become a seacooast, among other things. He was known as "the Sleeping Prophet" because he would go into sleep-like trances and supposedly contact the spirit world and pronounce miraculous perscriptions for his client's illnesses, both physical and spiritual.
Whether any of this is true, I don't know. I do know that, having lived in Virginia Beach twice in my life, Cayce's draw is such that people from all over the world flock to the A.R.E. to be closer to his ideas and like-minded ecumenical mystics. I went to the only s»ance of my life in Virginia Beach, a city that then had more mediums per capita than any other I could imagine. When I moved into my first off-campus apartment, while working on my thesis, one of my roomie's was a Cayce devotee. So much so that a familiar saying in our place was, "Edgar says --- ".
The southern end of the most populace seafront of Virginia Beach is dominated by hotels, restaurants, nightclubs and other tourist traps. It was there, during my second sojourn in that city, that I became one of the habitures of the Pequod, arguably the hottest disco in the city in 1976, located directlly across from the Peppermint Beach Club. The latter had long been a popular hangout for sailors ("squids") on leave in the area.
Because of the polar opposition of these two parts of the city, I -- along with many others -- began to think of the place as bifucated: Virgin Beach at the north, Vagina Beach to the south.
I was in a personal rutting period when I moved to Virginia Beach in the mid-'seventies, after time in Cairo and then back to Connecticut, and it was extremely easy to get laid in that town.
Three women dominated this period of my life -- though I would cheat on each of them along the way, so absorbed was I with my need for sexual experiences at the time -- Dorothy, who had been a patient at the Connecticut Valley Hospital, the location of my first job after returning to the States from Egypt; Nancy, who I had become involved with because of my friend Wally's description of hers as a "photogenic pussy," and; Sherrie, the second woman to whom I would become engaged in my young life. Sherrie had told me as soon as we became intimate that she had been a prostitute while living in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Sherrie, the last of my Virignia Beach women, was seven years my senior. Her biological clock was beginning to tick. She was ready to move out of her mother's home in Norfolk and settle down with a man. After we met and fell in love, we both thought I was him. We both underestimated my wanderlust ...
... Among the bartenders of Virginia Beach during those halcyon years of the advent of the disco craze, as well among other hospitality industry workers -- waiters, waitresses, hostesses, bellhops and desk workers from the hotels along the strip -- it was common practice to end the night of watching other revelers by going to a private after-hours club at the other end of the beach, located up in "Virgin Beach" territory ironically enough, called the Shark's Club. We would all leave bottles of our beverages of choice down there because they were only licensed to serve us mixers. Virginia, like many places in the South, was a Blue Law state. No alcohol could be sold or served after two a.m.
The Shark's Club was where we all went to let our hair down after the night's work. We drank our sour mash whiskey, our vodka, our gin, snorted cocaine, danced the night away, traded bed partners, got in fist fights, lied, bragged, bullshitted, home-wrecked and went out to the beach below the doors of the music-blaring club to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic ocean turning the droplet's of spume off the incoming breakers into rainbow-colored pearls -- frozen for an instant as they crashed toward us, suspended in mid-air! Then the wave would break and dissolve, frothy, into the receding spume. The woman and I are off to Grumpy's, the all-night diner back down in Vagina Beach, to eat steak and eggs before retiring to the apartment I share with Rick Shurtz, my high school buddy who bartended at the Pequod, so that she and I can fuck like minks.
The Pequod was the best and worst place for me to be during that rutting season. It was like returning to Kellam High School without being the Machiavellian I was once. I had been to Egypt, I had come back to Connecticut to begin an abortive attempt at a career in mental health, fleed their in shame after an embarrassing suicide attempt following my final breakup with Lynda and an episode of counter-tranference during a family therapy session I was conduciting.
When I fled back to Virginia Beach, it was to find my high school hero, Wally Wells, managing a bar owned by another Kellam alum', Buck Dugan, who had married the daughter of a locally-alleged mob boss. The bartenders were all my old fellow classmen from that high school, as were the bouncers. That was the top of the food chain at the place. Lower down on the food chain were the non-Kellamites, the waitresses and -- once the bar converted from a beer box into a discotheque != the Disc Jockey (DJ).
Being at the Pequod those years was a double-edged sword for me, though. Yes, these were the people with whom I shared most of my adolescence, with whom I' d grown up. But, with the exception of Rick Shurtz, who became my Vagina Beach flat-mate, many of them != including Wally != made no bones about reminding me that I was The Nigger in the crowd. I had difficulty stomaching their racism.
I remember that first day when I found my old crew down at the Pequod. Everybody was buying me beers, asking me about my time in Egypt. Wally and Rick kept playing the song, "The Boys Are Back in Town". It was one of those "Big Chill" experiences without the benefit of my having died. The first of a few I've experienced in this lifetime when returning to a place where I was loved.
While I had been in college, I did stay in touch with the lay of the land in Virginia Beach. The summer after my freshman year, I had lived with my lifelong friend, Ric Williams' family and worked construction. We had saved our ducats for a trick to Montreal, Canada, one of the world's most beautiful cities. After the next summer in Charlottesville, Lynda and I "vacationed" in Virginia Beach, sharing an apartment two blocks from the ocean with another couple down in Vagina Beach while I worked for the Parks and Recreations Department driving the boardwalk train.
So it was only natural that I end up at the Pequod with the members of my old crew. I lived with Wally for awhile, sleeping on the floor of the extra room in his flat, making extra bucks helping to clean-up the bar at first, and then moved in with my other Kellam pal, Rick Shurtz, where I would stay until I felt I must leave that benighted city or surely die a young, sodden and (most-likely) violent death.
The Plan when I first moved to Virginia Beach was to finally get on with becoming a writer. "When are you gonnah finish that book, Amis," Wally used to quip in his cups, "so's I can collect my goddamned immortality?" (Note to Wally Wells: I'm doing it now, pal. Hang on!) ...
Thanks for coming back this week. Keep me in your prayers as I keep you in my own.
THINGSI NEED THIS WEEK1. A new job.
2. Enough to pay my rent, my debts and buy food.
3. To get back on schedule with completing the Glass House book.
"Work like you don't need the money,
"Love like you've never been hurt,
"Dance like no one is watching ... "
Rod was a columnist for the Andover News Network, where he wrote over two hundred articles on web design and development issues. He was also principal writer and Editor for IT Manager's Journal, where he reviewed technology issues weekly, producing 383 editorials. He became the Managing Editor for Electronic Mail/Newsletter Publications at Andover.net at the end of February, 2000, and left in September of the same year. He was a contributing writer for ACCESS magazine, which appeared both on- and offline for 10 million readers in 100 newspapers like the San Francisco Chronicle, New York Post, Boston Herald, Austin American-Statesman, Denver Post and Orlando Sentinel, among others. Rod was the US reporter for Silicon.com, a division of Network Multimedia Television in London, UK, reaching 3.5 million European readers, until May, 2001.
In 2002, he worked as Assistant to the General Manager of a Big Easy company that does restaurants and nightclubs. (Think: The Boy.) Oh yeah, Rod's had Day Jobs working construction. Mostly renovations of old New Orleans structures, houses and a bar. Sometimes he designs Web sites for other people so that he can get his creative juices flowing the way he can't at a staid publication like this one. And he's been the instructor in Editing for Internet Publications at the Novi Sad School of Journalism in Yugoslavia. Our Resident Philosopher is attempting to secure enough part-time work to perhaps equal the income of a single good full-time position. In his spare time, he chases women in the manner that a fly pursues a spider.
Rod barely survives in New Orleans, Louisiana. This town is eroding his normal sense of driven purpose. He wants to live somewhere civilized when he grows up. Wish him Luck.
Rod is "noodling" away at the Glass House book.
He continues to be committed to integrity,
chastity and a dose of humility.
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