Monday, January 4, 2016

Breeding Hearts

This is the first draft of what I hope will become a series of novels.  It's only two days old, so bear with me.


         Something didn't smell right.  It smelled too good, like oatmeal cookies, or  vanilla air freshener.  We were standing in the foyer of a large house, one of those ostentatious mansions that sprout like mushrooms in fields that were once filled with rows of artichoke plants or almond trees. 
            It should have smelled like dogs.  It needn't reek of dog but there would always be a certain doggie fug in the house of a breeder.  Lydia and I were here on a surprise inspection.  If this place was a puppy mill, as we suspected, it wouldn't smell like oatmeal cookies.  It would smell like damp fur and a little bit of shit and piss.  There would be the scent of animal stress, which smells the same no matter what the breed.  Abused animals give off a distinctive odor that is layered over with a psychic miasma of terror. 
            I looked at Lydia, who is her own special breed of sensor.  Lydia's face registered complete horror.  She was trying to keep herself together, but her special senses also burden her with a special fragility.  Lydia can empathize with other creatures with visceral accuracy.  The job was hard on her.  She kept working, in spite of the pain.
            I showed my credentials to the oriental lady who stood squarely in front of us, just inside the door.  I had a police Lieutenant's badge and an I.D. card that identified me as Lucas Holbein, Field Agent for Viera County Animal Control And Safety.  I was a County Sheriff.  Never mind how I got into working cases busting puppy mills and rescuing starving horses..  This was my work, my vocation.  My fellow cops called me "Doogie".  I didn't care.
            "Mrs. Yu," I said to the tall woman who blocked our way into the house.  "We're here on an informal visit.  I do not have a warrant.  I would appreciate your cooperation."
            There was a smugness to Mrs.Yu that told me this was no surprise.  Someone had tipped her that we were coming.  If this was a puppy mill, it had been cleaned up and the dogs had been silenced. 
            "Yes, please come.  You are welcome to house."  She almost pranced but there was a tightness to her gait that shouted "I AM HIDING THINGS FROM YOU!"
            Another glance towards Lydia.  She had got her composure back but her nostrils were twitching and her eyebrows almost met at the bridge of her nose.  She was very upset.  Already.
            The living room was dimly lit and the furniture was covered in clear plastic.  There were plastic runners on the floor.  Paintings on the wall were the kind purchased for ten bucks a shot at flea markets.  Floral still lifes.  Horses in a field.  A dilapidated boat dock with picturesque little skiffs. 
            "I would like to look around, Mrs. Yu.  I would like to see your basement, garage and back yard.  I can return with a warrant if necessary."
            "All you like, look. I only do not want you in my personal bedroom.  That door, on left down hall." Her hand described an arc of inclusiveness.  Her palm was facing downward, a gesture I had learned was an evasive "tell".  Palm up: not hiding.  Palm down: hiding.  I heard a door open, then close.  A man appeared.  A big guy with very hard looking hands.  A stream of Mandarin flowed from his mouth towards Mrs. Yu. Lydia's ears twitched.  Lydia spoke Mandarin, Japanese and Russian.  She didn't advertise this fact.
            The man interposed himself between us and Mrs. Yu. I showed the man my card and badge.  He nodded. "I am Mister Yu.  My wife not very much English," he said. The man projected sheer cold menace. "Is complaint about dogs?  You listen: not noise!"
            In fact I could hear faint whimpering.  This sound of distress hung like smoke draping itself across the textured ceiling. Otherwise, the place didn't sound like a breeder's premises.  When breeders treat their dogs with respect there is always a cacophony of rambunctious animals.  It was the quiet places that scared me.  I had seen awful things in big quiet houses out in the suburbs.
            "I'd like to see the back yard, please," I said. Mr. Yu went first, then Lydia and I followed. Mrs.Yu fell in behind us.  All the doors were closed.  The house was sepulchral.  We passed through the kitchen and there was a tell tale assortment of utensils.  I saw cauldrons, kettles and large ladles. A floor-standing commercial mixer stood next to a double-sized refrigerator. This house didn't look lived-in. It looked like a factory.
            The door to the garage led off from the kitchen. Just as Mr. Yu was about to turn the knob, his cell phone rang.  He looked at the caller I.D., then said "Ni Hao!"  Our procession paused.  A string of Mandarin flowed from Mr. Yu.  He turned his back to us and took four steps away, into the center of the kitchen.  His voice went low, private.  Unfortunately for Mr. Yu, Lydia has ears like a bat.  She looked off into space but I'll swear her ears became pointed. 
            The conversation lasted half a minute.  Mr. Yu returned, smiling with feigned embarrassment.  "Business call," he said.  Lydia threw me a look.  She had heard something important.
            The large back yard was filled with stacks of black-wired cages.  They were under green canvas canopies.  They stood in an "L" shaped arrangement with room between each stack for a human to gain access to the cage doors.  There were forty cages and about half of them were occupied.  They were inhabited exclusively by toy poodles.  I counted four litters of pups.  They were snuggled up to their mothers' teats, some of them wiggling to get hold, some of them sound asleep.  The other cages held single puppies of various shades.  Black, brown, white and a few pups that were a distinctive pearly taupe.
            This would have been a reasonably acceptable scene but for one odd characteristic: almost all of the dogs were asleep.  They lay with their heads on their forepaws, or curled in a ball.  Some showed eyes that were half open in a hynotized daze. A few cropped tails wagged.  A few tongues stuck out.  There was nothing of canine vitality on display.  Any breeder of any stripe, anywhere, would have a yard full of barking excited dogs.  Visitors!  Yay!  That's what I would expect from twenty dogs.
The two sets of pups were just a few days old.  They lay against their bitches' bellies like they were dead.  I had to get up close, just to see signs of breath, of life.
            Mr.and Mrs. Yu were moving all around us, stiff like mannikins, bumping and pushing.  Mr. Yu gave me a pretty good buffet, which he tried to pretend was an accident.
The grins on their faces were qualified as "shit eating", excuse my language, but there's no other way to describe the falsity of their expressions.
            "What have you done to them?"  Lydia spoke softly but she was nonetheless howling.  I knew that Lydia already knew things that were still obscure to me.  Lydia's intuition often put her two or three steps ahead of me.
            "They sleep!" protested Mrs. Yu.  "It just exercise.  Tired dogs. Very tired."  She pointed at the gear in the yard.  There was the usual assortment of mesh tunnels, ramps, hurdles.  Toys were scattered everywhere.  The turf was almost barren of grass, with divots poking out and  signs of digging and scuffling.  The fence was perfect.  It was a six foot high barrier of twelve inch pine slats.  Each slat terminated in two points.  At the base of the fence was a concrete footing, eight inches or so.  Nothing was going to dig its way under this fence.  None of the neighbors could see anything.
            "I would like to take a blood sample," I said, and produced a syringe and a rubber tie from my coat pocket.  This brought what I expected from the Yu's: protest.  "No blood!  Leave dogs to sleep!" Mrs. Yu did her stiff marionette dance in front of me while her husband approached from my right side.  He did the "accidental" buffet again, but I was ready for him and I was so set in my stance that I didn't budge an inch.  The man almost bounced off of me. 
            Lydia had disappeared.  She had a knack for being somewhere and then not being somewhere.  She possessed a native quietude that made her innately stealthy. People often overlooked her vanishing because they had barely noticed her in the first place.  I walked towards one of the cages that housed a nursing female.  Mr.Yu put himself in my way.  Mrs. Yu laughed an empty sound.  I needed to keep them busy.  I put my hand on a cage latch and Mr. Yu clamped his hand around my wrist.  His grip was like an iron band.
            "You stop!" he said. "No warrant. No search."
            "Look," I said, keeping anger out of my voice.  I did not want confrontation. "I don't see anything that's a flagrant violation.  Your dogs look healthy. I'm just curious about this lack of energy."  In fact, the dogs did not look healthy.  Their gums were pale. Their coats were dull. Some were panting, others looked almost dead.  This was, to all appearances, a kennel of drugged canines.  The two nursing mother dogs looked far too old to be having litters.  One of them was going grey in the muzzle.  The other was emaciated.  I had to keep my feelinngs out of this situation.  It wouldn't help me handle the Yus.  I needed to give Lydia time to scope out the real kennel, the stuff behind closed doors.
            Lydia had gone back through the kitchen and down the first available hallway.  All the doors were locked.  The bathroom door was not locked but a scan of the medicine cabinet showed empty shelves.  Drawers contained some floss and a bottle of Ibuprofen. 
Lydia tried a door that was narrow: a utility closet.  It was locked.  Under her coat she wore a photographer's field vest.  From one of its pockets she produced her little pick set and had the door open in a second.  There was a tiny aquarium on a shelf.  It was about the size of a shoe box. Tubes ran from an IV bottle and led to the creature that was imprisoned in this tiny container.  Lydia's heart was already pounding with fear.  She had long ago accepted the fact that she could not separate her own emotions from the emotions that swirled around her world.  It was a kind of Hell and she was doing everything possible to live and serve while in this Hell.  It was also the reason for keeping her personal life simple and reserved for other humans who were emotionally stable.
            She saw the creature's eyes, staring out from a ball of dark brown poodle hair.  Poodles don't have fur, as such.  They have distinctive curly hair that retains its growing period indefinitely.  This little pup was nothing but a pair of eyes mounted on a round tumbleweed of hair.  There was an IV drip descending from an upper shelf.  It ran through a hole in the container's lid and was attached to the puppy, somewhere in that mass of hyperactive follicles. Lydia examined the label. It was a used drip bag, crumpled and folded, then unfolded.  The label had been scrubbed but Lydia could read the letters "P-H-E", then there was a washed out place, and the script continued, revealing the letters "B-A-R-B".  It was a piece of information but it was flawed as a clue. She had no idea what drug or drugs were being used on the poor little guy. In spite of the chemical cocktail it was being fed, the dog's eyes were alive with desperation.  Lydia heard a voice as distinctly as if it was being spoken into her ear.
            "Get me out of here!" the voice pleaded.  "I'm going crazy!"
            She didn't have to think about it.  She peeled the lid back and groped for the place where the IV needle was attached.  She knew the needle would be as fine as a copper wire.  She found it, taped to the dog's right front leg.  As gently as possible, she removed the tape and pulled the needle out.  It started to drip and she popped it against the sheet rock wall until it bent closed.  Then she picked the puppy up.  It was so light!  It was no heavier than a baby finch.  This meshed with the phrases of Mandarin she had heard Mr. Yu speak into the telephone.  "Tiny," he said it as if boasting.  "Very very tiny.  Fit in teacup!"
            A teacup poodle.  The smallest poodle breed.  She knew that the oriental market prized these tiny dogs and would pay four or five thousand dollars for a poodle that weighed less than six pounds at maturity.  The dog in her hand may not have weighed a pound, if that.  His nose was so foreshortened that the tip of his tongue didn't fit all the way into his mouth.  A little pink curl of knobbed flesh stuck out from between his teeth.
Lydia put him inside her coat.  She used a blade in her lock kit to cut out an approximation of the dog made from her coat lining.  She put that brown lining inside the glass cage and laid the IV tube within its curls.  She replaced the lid and closed the door. 
            She listened carefully.  She heard the whimpering, the near inaudible frequency of suffering.  The dog inside her coat snugged himself to her heart and remained quiet. She felt his little warmth against her sweater, checked that he was able to breathe, and closed the closet door. 
            Lucas was still distracting the Yus in the back yard.  Lydia looked for the basement door.  It was at the end of the hall.  She picked the lock, opened the door.  The lights were on and there were fans turning. As she descended a few steps the contents of the basement came into view.  Shelves were filled with identical glass cages.  There were IV bags dripping into most of the puppies who were confined.  The whole scheme revealed itself. Tiny dogs generate huge profits. Rich Chinese, Korean and Japanese competed with one another to own the smallest dogs. The Yus applied a ruthless logic.  How do you prevent a puppy from growing?  Deprive it of exercise, feed it drugs to keep it docile, confine it to a tiny cage.  At eight weeks you clean up the dog, give it a haircut, take a photo and ship to the customer.  All sales final.  It's in the contract's small print.  Many dogs die in transit.  Those that survive are probably crazy.  It was a scam.
            She used her cell phone to call Lucas.  He picked up, listening. 
            "I'm in the basement.  It's unbelievable.  Get a warrant.  Pretend you're cool with them, or they'll be gone by tomorrow.  There must be fifty puppies down here and...." she almost sobbed.  "Just..just get a warrant.  We have to move on these people. Now!"
            Lucas kept his phone in his hand, palming it.  The situation had just escalated. 
In the basement, Lydia got out her digital camera and took two shots.  One was a wide angle that showed the scale of the place.  The other zoomed in to its limit, making an image of two glass cages that imprisoned two tiny hairy creatures that resembled nothing so much as characters from a Star Wars film.  They were Ewoks.  Minuscule, somnolescent Ewoks trapped in shoe-box sized aquariums and fed through IV tubes.
She sent these images to Lucas.  Then she returned upstairs, moving towards the back yard, hoping she could re-insert herself into the unfolding "inspection" as if she had been there all along. 
            Lucas walked towards another cage, putting a few steps distance from the looming Mr. Yu.  He glanced down at his phone.  One image, of a large basement filled with confined tiny puppies.  Another image, showing the IV drip and the two puppies who lay in their cages as if stunned, barely breathing.  He put his phone back in his pocket.  He returned his attention to the Yus, and saw Lydia emerge into the yard.  There was no noise to her footsteps.  She was, again, present.  Mrs. Yu gave her a look of profound mistrust.
            "You go somewhere?  You go into my house?" 
            Lydia pointed vaguely towards her personal anatomy.  "I had an emergency.  I needed to use your bathroom.  A female emergency."  She made a circle with her hand, indicating her abdominal regions.  The eyes of Mr. and Mrs. Yu locked briefly, then broke.
            Lucas needed to assuage their fears.  He flipped a few pages on the clipboard that he carried in an inner pocket of his rain coat.  "Okay, look."  He made some pen marks on the inspection form's top page. "Your dogs seem a little lethargic but I can't site you for a specific violation.  How about this?  Let's set up an appointment in..oh..about a week."  He gave a cautionary look to Lydia.  She was struggling to keep her emotions in check.  The priority was to keep the Yus from bolting, from pulling a couple of trucks into the driveway, loading up the animals and gear and relocating in one swift operation.  They had experience.  The profits to be made were enormous and the risk far less than dealing drugs.  The Yus might be, probably were, part of an organization.  There might be fifty or a hundred identical puppy mills set up in California and beyond. 
            He tore off the top sheet on his clip-board.  It was a yellow inspection form.  Lucas had written the basic information: the family name, "Yu".  Address, type of facility, number of dogs.  He had refrained from checking off any of the boxes.  Under comments he had written "Dogs display lethargic demeanor".
            Lydia was turned sideways to the rest of the group.  Lucas saw her glance down into her coat.  It lasted a fraction of a second.  A little bump moved under her breast.  He didn't think it was seen by the Yus.  It was time to get out of there.
            "Thank you very much, Mr. and Mrs. Yu," he said.  "I will give you a call some time this week and we can talk further, okay?"
            The anxious couple seemed to relax.  Their shoulders descended, as if they had been holding their breath and had finally let go.  "They must think I'm stupid," Lucas thought.  "At least I hope they think I'm stupid."
            "Yes, that fine," Mr. Yu used his bulk to move everyone towards a gate that opened from the side of the yard and led to the circular driveway where Lucas had parked his grey Ford Taurus.  It was a Sheriff's Department motor pool vehicle.  The symbol of Viera County surrounded the universal star of Law Enforcement.  Viera County was a place of lakes and vineyards. The graphic showed a paradise of up-scale agriculture and refined corridors of Redwood trees.  Lucas considered the County Coat Of Arms to be a ridiculous exercise in vanity.  A more appropriate assortment of Viera County's reality would have been a collage of marijuana plants, heroin syringes and half-built developments.
            He drove away from the Yu's house, rounding the corner and stopping under a copse of oak trees alongside an older house surrounded by a low white picket fence.  It was one of the few original dwellings that remained after the developers had bought up all the acreage along Crest Hill Road.  Now there were bulldozers and back hoes, working on properties that were parceled into one acre lots.  Half-built homes were in progress of becoming pretentious stucco and tile mansions identical to that in which the Yus kept their breeding enterprise.
            Lucas slipped the radio microphone from its clip.  Lydia opened her coat and a tiny head popped out.  "Oh jeez," Lucas blurted.  A female voice on the radio responded:
"Not the Christ, Lucas, sorry, just the same old Judy."
            "Sorry Judy, i just saw something that was...well, a surprise."
            "I hope the good kind," the dispatcher responded. 
            "Let's call it a mixed blessing.  Do we have anyone available to do surveillance?  Is there someone with a pulse out in the field that can spend a few hours watching a house?"
            "In Vikacks?"  She referred to acronym/nickname of Viera County Animal Control And Safety.  "You kidding?  Terrence is out in Santa Lucia where some horses ran all over the Pronzini Brothers vines.  And... hell.." This was pronounced "hail" in Judy Fellows Compton dialect.  "Hail no, but I try 'em all."
            It was the reality of VCACS budget.  There hadn't been any cuts because the agency had started at rock bottom after a prolonged political struggle between so-called "animal loving do-gooders" and conservative politicians

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Poem I Can't Write

Sept 22, 2015
The Poem I Can't Write

This is the poem that I can't write.
This is the tuning fork, the bells cast of Himalayan metal
the one good note sounded on the broken piano.
Where is it?  Why can't I write it?
It's just too beautiful.  Who would trust
someone like me to utter the dreadful exquisite,
the endless glory of the universe; who would
confer such a gift upon me?
No one would drift upon my head
a net made of the finest weave, strands of strongest silk
bands of fearless brass, lines of noble metal
radioactively gorgeous, so grave and sweet as to be
the speech at my father's funeral, the lament of a thousand pipes 
wailing across the valley where the trees dip in the wind.
This is the poem I will write, whether or not I am worthy.
Only I can stop me and I will not stop me, can not let go of the current,
trapped in the grip of my own electricity, charging and burning my hands because I don't care.  I am simply too small. 
I am the poetic mouse who survives beneath the floorboards
while a world clatters above me. 
I am the poem I have written.

Monday, August 31, 2015

So You Think You Can Dance

Copyright 2015
Art Rosch

            "What's wrong with kids today?"
            This lament has been uttered by every generation  since Adam and Eve discovered they were pregnant a second time.
            So....what IS wrong with kids these days?
           They feel as if they have no future.  The last few extant generations simply don't.  Futures come in handy when you feel as though the world will be unrecognizable before you've grown up.  As a child of The Mushroom Cloud I know what that feels like, that amputation of the future. It made me really angry.  My friends and I were more likely to commit petty crimes and indulge in drugs.  Without a future, why bother?  Why work hard in school?  Why cultivate disciplines, interests, social connections?  The oceans are rising and will drown your block or your whole neighborhood.  The coolest animals will be extinct.  No elephants, no polar bears.  What kind of future is that?
            Then I discovered a TV show called "So You Think You Can Dance".  You can knock me over with what these kids are doing!  Their bodies must be INCREDIBLY strong and flexible.  These kids are doing the impossible!  Has the human race mutated?  Do we have extra joints, super-human muscle memory? Who ARE these people?
            They're just kids.  Their secret is that they found a passion, something that interested them so much that they said "fuck it" to the absence of the future and decided to live for this thing called Dance.  It was better than being a thug.  Thugs are mean, WAY mean and being mean doesn't feel very good.  Not as good as practicing B-moves, Krumping, flapping, sapping, tapping, robot-twitching, water-waving, learning your body's capabilities and stretching them further, further, further!
            This is IT!  Sometimes it's called ART.  Don't be embarrassed by the word ART.  It's cool to do ART.  It's okay.  Even if it's gay it doesn't matter.  Nobody cares about gay any more.  You can be gay, you can change from man to woman or woman to man, nobody cares!  If you want to know where it is, where the cutting edge in creativity can be found these days you can see it on "So You Think You Can Dance".  The judges aren't scary.  They aren't there to cut you down.  They want to show you The Future.  Word up, Bro.  There IS a future.  Nobody can stop it.  It takes some work.  Everything good takes work. Making a future is hard work.  It's not like it used to be, when the Future was going to happen no matter what.  Now it takes a little faith and a lot of work, but it's there: you... DO...Have...A...Future.  Do you want it to kick you in the nuts or do you want to dance with it?
            When has anyone given a shit about choreoraphy?  Are you kidding?  Corey-who?  Shazam!  Choreographers are the composers of Dance.  They arrange the time-space-music continuum in which Dance exists.  On the TV show they are not only given credit, they are like stars!  Now I know the work of Tice Diorio, Mia Michaels, Sonya Tayeh, "Nappytab", Stacey Tookey and Travis Wall.  Choreographers come from the elder population of dancers.  They still dance but they are the keepers of the flame, the mentors of the seventeen through twenty two year old dancers who are living the dreams.
            I'm not sure there is any more difficult art form than what is now appearing as Dance.  It's not enough to specialize.  You can't be a ballroom dancer, a hip-hopper or a Broadway hoofer.  One of the messages of So You Think You Can Dance is that you must be trained in ALL the dance styles.  Choreographers wont' hire you if you don't know all the styles of dance. Choreographers are the Gate Keepers, the bosses, the ones who hire dancers.  Get tight with the choreographers who work at SYTYCD and you will be employed for years to come. In time, you will become a choreographer.
            The most amazing thing about the dance numbers on this show is their purity.  We're not seeing arrangements for pop superstars.  We're not seeing choreography for Taylor Swift or Michael Jackson (RIP).  These dance routines are created for the television audience.  For US!  Sometimes magic happens on that stage.  Those of you who watch the show know what I mean.  In ten years time this show has lifted the art of Dance so that each season is more amazing than the last.  The mutations continue.  Evolution is visible year to year.  Dancers get more flexible, their muscle memories become more detailed, malleable, imprintable.  This happens in front of our eyes.  Sure, it's a TV contest show aimed at a teenage demographic.  That's how things work.  Consider the difference between the egregious karaoke of American Idol and the drama and high art of So You Think You Can Dance.  Big difference, yeah?

            Big big difference.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Oprah And The Selling of Dream Fulfillment Technology

Oprah and The Selling of Dream Fulfillment Technology

            Every time I go to the supermarket I see "O" magazine displayed at the checkout stand and every issue of "O" magazine has a photo of Oprah Winfrey on its cover.  There is something disturbing about a person who puts herself on the cover of her own magazine month after month.  She can do what she wants with it, but we know what Oprah looks like by now and I feel a little embarrassed for her.  She could give us inspiring landscape photos or images of other worthy people.  Instead, we get a simple complacent message:"Look at me!  I'm Oprah.  I'm still young, slim and beautiful."  Even though she's not.
            If it's wisdom that I seek from the pages of "O" magazine, I would as soon discuss life with a REAL funky old black broad than with this promoter of the so-called Ideal Life.
            It takes only a brief glimpse at the titles of the articles to make me feel utterly shitty about myself.  I'm not losing weight.  I'm not making more money. I'm not getting younger.  My libido is vanishing.  My dreams haven't been fulfilled.  
            This last item, about dream fulfillment, is an arrow pointing into the center of Oprah's empire.  This uber-wealthy celebrity is selling what I call DREAM FULFILLMENT TECHNOLOGY.  She has become  rich and powerful peddling this stuff and the irony of it is this: there is no such thing as DREAM FULFILLMENT TECHNOLOGY.  There are various tools to help us cope better with life's stresses.  There are psychotherapy, meditation, exercise, nutrition and a raft of spiritual practices.  None of these, however, guarantees that dreams will come true.  Only a very few people, lucky or possessing a certain kind of karma, get to live their dreams.  The rest of us must accept the lives we have been dealt.  Life is sometimes good, sometimes bad, sometimes a nightmare and occasionally a dream.
            The problem with dreams is that  one can dream the wrong dream.  Watch any episode of "American Idol" to witness inept dreamers.  The depth of people's belief in themselves is shockingly at odds with their lack of talent.  Dreams are, by their nature, elusive.  If people are willing to commit decades of their lives to pursuing a goal, it might be wise to let the process of pursuit become the defining reality.  If you do a thing and you love doing it, stay with that love and don't be distracted by some end point called Success.  That way, when dreams fail to materialize, the disappointment does not become bitterness.  If a dream IS fulfilled, then there must be a new dream, and yet another in an infinite progression of dreams.  Such is the stuff of being alive.  The world itself is a dream.
            Oprah is but one of many thousands of merchants of Fulfillment.  They thrive in hard times and these are hard times.  I want to go "tut tut" and say "Shame on you for exploiting the frustration and gullibility of your clients."              
          It seems to me that the big-time sellers of Dream Fulfillment Technology are making a lot more money than their customers. That's why the cover of "O" magazine gives me the creeps.
        I realize that Oprah has supported many great causes, given a host of writers their defining break and has represented a general movement towards positive awareness.  It's the cult of personality that bothers me.  I wouldn't be surprised at the establishment of a Dalai-lama style lineage so that in a thousand years we may be addressing the Fourteenth Oprah as she descends from her hover-carpet to bless the multitudes.  I hope that she will be a crotchety old black broad with a whip-sharp tongue and no patience for fools.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Hell On Wheels: A Review of the AMC epic Western

Anson Mount: The Glare

            "Hell On Wheels" is the name of the shanty town at the end of the railroad tracks. It's 1868 and The Union Pacific is spear-heading construction of the rails using teams of newly freed blacks and Irish laborers. The "town", a hodge podge of tents and important wooden buildings like the saloon, the casino and the whore house, get up and move every couple of months as the tracks continue their extension across Nebraska.  Coming East from California is the Central Pacific's railroad.  It is being built by an army of Chinese workers.  They have already crossed the Sierra Nevada and are headed for the Rocky Mountains.  Railroad men of various ethnic identities are digging, tunneling, blasting, dying and being ruthlessly exploited by a small cadre of robber barons who pull strings from distant offices in St. Louis, Chicago, Washington D.C. and New York City.
            Nearer to hand are a tier of middle managers working from Denver and Omaha.  At the very tip of the spear, right where the tracks are being laid into the mud and rock, is Cullen Bohannan.  He is played with great conviction by actor Anson Mount.  Bohannan is at various times Chief Engineer, common laborer, independent contractor and Head Of Railroad Police for the Union Pacific.  His knowledge and drive make him indispensable to builders of railroads.
            Bohannon was a Colonel in the Confederate Army.  While he was fighting battles distant from home, his family was murdered by pillaging Yankee soldiers.  Bohannon has a long and violent history.  He has a rage for revenge and a relentless drive to build railroad tracks better and faster than the competition.  This obsession with the track is Cullen's way of sublimating his grief and wrath.
            Here you have the setting for an epic Western television series.  "Hell On Wheels" is uneven but when it's good it's fantastic.  Even when it's not good it's not bad.  It's just slow and a bit broad, with bouts of over-acting and a little taste of corn.  Much of this over-acting is done by veteran actor Colm Meany, who plays Charles Durant, the putative owner of the Union Pacific.  I use the word putative because in the course of the plot, ownership of rail stocks switches hands, and is otherwise manipulated without scruples.  Colm Meany's Durant is a smarmy con man and ruthless survivor whose railroad is the object of numerous baits and switches, shell games, pyramid schemes and hand-buzzer jokes.  He can simultaneously occupy a jail cell and rule a business empire.  He's a man who wears a fine frock coat and beaver hat but he doesn't mind walking in the mud and he'll pick up a rifle or pistol if the occasion calls for it.  Overdone?  Yes, but entertaining as hell. 
Colm Meany's Durant: always a scumbag,occasionally an ally
            Anson Mount is an actor well suited to play a Western Hero.  He's got one of those faces that wears a look of passionate indifference.  This only sounds paradoxical until you see how he has mastered the skank-eye glare with which he regards his enemies.  He has murdered those Yankees directly responsible for killing his family.  He drinks, gambles and whores with the ruck and muck yet he earns their absolute loyalty because he gets the railroad built.  He is fair with his men.  He does the same work.  He is right where the track ends, where it is being built yet another mile across the plains and headed towards the mountains.  He wears a gun belt, jeans, boots, a leather vest and a straight brimmed black hat.
            "Hell On Wheels" is gripping.  It has a raft of finely crafted villains.  "The Swede" is a murderous yet subtle psychopath who never seems to die.  Just when we think he's been disposed of, he reappears.  Our celebration has been premature.  Hang him, burn him alive, throw him off a bridge, run him through with a spear: the monster keeps returning, with his huge eyes and his way of saying "mm.hmm" with his finger tapping his cheek.

The Swede cleaning off the gore

Swede, aka Thor Gundersen, a very scary man

            This is testament to the power of the series' dramatic engine.  A drama is only as good as its villains.  "Hell On Wheels" provides us with a lot of villains, and no two are alike.  We are disturbingly drawn by these evil characters into dark places of the human soul.  Our nerves are grinding, our teeth crunching as we wait for the awful monsters to meet justice.  We NEED that emotional release.  We can't wait for The Swede, or Durant, or Governor Jack Campbell, or smirking Sidney Snow to get what they deserve.  We wait with our breath held, wanting to squash those bastards into the puke and piss of Main Street Hell On Wheels.  The story runners keep us hanging on, coming back for more.  Some day Cullen Bohannon will draw his long pistol, fix his skank-eye glare of steely calm on his target and blow the fucker to pieces!
           I give "Hell On Wheels" four muskrats, one for each of the seasons so far produced.  There is a fifth and final season coming this year.  Perhaps The Swede will be diced, sliced, sauteed, pureed, dried and ground into powder, then released into the vortex of an EF Five Tornado, to be absolutely sure that he doesn't turn up somewhere else.  If he had been with The Donner Party he would have walked grinning down the Western Slope all chubby and with grease dripping from his lips.

Friday, June 26, 2015

A Poem About The Changing Language Called Engrish

June 26, 2015

is a bigger LOL,
the language has been twittered,
texted amputated, but
there is hope, what with all the
extra syllables, "impotency", when
did that come along? "Competency"?
What was wrong with "competence"?
it's like saying "Nukular" marks you
as a moron; let's get "orientated", OK?
I like the acronyms better than the extra "cy"s and
while Webster's gives them full status, Oxford tiptoes around the issue, so FWIW
when the nukular thingy goes off in your home town
it will be just a dream, a nightmare scream. LGBT saves just enough time to
get gay, and I've heard, FYI, that Lezbos and Queers are immune
to radiation.  AAMOF they have other powers too, so don't be too quick to judge those who are different, AAFCS.
As Any Fool Can See.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Saving Grace: A Review of the TV Series

This image beautifully captures the character of Detective Grace Hanadarko

  Holly Hunter has never been on my radar before I saw her in the role of detective Grace Hanadarko in the series, "Saving Grace".  
          The cop show genre is tired. There are so many redundant procedurals about catching bad guys.  Do we need another one?  "Saving Grace" is distinctive because its premise is hewn out of a metaphysical absurdity.  It takes this crazy premise and carries it with gusto through three seasons.  That's an achievement worth noting.
            The premise, (we can even call it a gimmick) is simple enough.  Detective Hanadarko is driving drunk, speeding in her unwashed Porsche 911 down a dark deserted street when she hits and kills a man who has appeared as if from nowhere.
            She leans over the body and wails, "Oh God, Oh God, what have I done?  Please help me!"
            Suddenly the man is gone, there's no blood on the concrete, no damage to her car.  It's as if it never happened.
            Grace has experienced an intervention.  The agent of this intervention is an Angel, literally an Angel, with retractable wings, shaggy grey hair and a weathered face that is full of kindness.  His name is Earl and his function is to serve as a "Last Chance Angel".  Does Grace believe this?  Of course not.  Earl whisks her to a promontory at the Grand Canyon, performs a few other casual miracles and returns her to the site of the accident. 
            Saving Grace is set in Oklahoma City.  We are never allowed to forget that the bombing of The Murrah Building is for Oklahomans an equivalent to 9/11 for most other Americans.  Everyone in the The Violent Crimes Unit  lost a loved one or a friend in that heinous crime and it is still very much alive in  Oklahoma culture.  
          The Violent Crimes Unit is filled with unruly cops, all of whom are either having sex with Grace, will have sex with Grace, or want to have sex with Grace.  For Hunter this is a great role, a vehicle for her acting chops and she inhabits the character effortlessly and with total conviction. She has  a distinctive way of speaking, as if she is whistling through the side of her mouth.  I don't think this is an affectation.  It may be more of a symptom, but that's none of my business.  It doesn't harm Hunter's effectiveness.
            Hunter is a tiny person.  She is like a petite thoroughbred race horse, every muscle rippling with purpose.  She moves with sexy arrogance, tossing her mane of hair with a trademark twitch, striding through the world in her hippie clothes and cowboy boots.  As Grace she is a very naughty girl, a sex addict, an alcoholic, a disturber-of-shit.  It's amazing that she hasn't been fired but she's always teetering on the brink of disaster with Internal Affairs.  Her raunchy provocation keeps the cops in her unit in a pheromone ferment.  She's having an affair with her partner/cop.  This is flirting with personal and professional suicide.  Cop/Partner/Boyfriend is jealous of every other cop who might have been or will be involved with Grace, hence the constant outbreak of boyish fistfights in the squad's office.  Fortunately for Grace, the unit is commanded by a loyal friend, Captain Kate Perry, played with assurance by Lorraine Toussaint.
            The series begins with an adequate episode. It works well enough to keep me around to see more.  It gains momentum and the characters emerge in ways that are appealing.   The Violent Crimes Unit is a family.  It behaves dysfunctionally but one thing can be said: these are not corrupt cops.  They may be drunk, jealous, their personal lives in chaos, but these cops aren't dirty.  They are very good at their jobs. In spite of their screwy milieu, they solve crimes.
            Leon Rippy, playing Earl, The Last Chance Angel, is a pillar in the structure of the story arc.  He pushes no religious agenda, he's strictly non-denominational. 
            It's easy to see that the cast and crew of "Saving Grace" had a wonderful time working on the project.  When such chemistry evolves in a film or TV series, it's palpable and it makes the viewing that much more rewarding.  I enjoyed "Saving Grace" for its sense of family, for the obvious devotion that the characters had for one another, for Earl's angelic mischief.  There's a lot of good stuff here. 

          I give it four muskrats.  It's really a three and a half muskrat series but I'll throw in another half because there's so much worthless crap around.  And there's Laura SanGiacomo. She plays the most adorable forensic coroner working in the TV/Cop world.
Leon Rippy as Earl, The Last Chance Angel

Sunday, April 5, 2015

A Review of My Soon-to-be Published Novel

John Coltrane

I began writing CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MAN thirty years ago.  I acquired a high profile literary agent named Scott Meredith, thanks to the sale of a short story to Playboy Magazine.  The story won Playboy's Best Story Award for the year.  It seemed that I was shot out of a rocket; my career was launched and I had editors at Meredith's agency helping me with CONFESSIONS etc. In spite of this stroke of amazing fortune, that was not my best year.  It was almost my worst.  I had big problems, personal problems.  The editor helped me with the book, but I was not yet mature as a writer.  The book required that I trace the lives of characters across fifty years.  I was barely over twenty years old. Then Scott Meredith passed away and so did my opportunity.

I continued writing and finished CONFESSIONS and other projects.  When I started passing CONFESSIONS around to literary agents the landscape of publishing had changed.  The era of vampires and tycoon-erotica had taken hold.  I heard this phrase hundreds of times: "While your writing is excellent, I find that I haven't fallen in love with your book and I'm afraid I'll have to pass."

There are so many people writing so many books these days that it's difficult to get ANYONE to read my manuscript.  I don't blame people for giving me the swish n' pass treatment.  In spite of so many obstacles, I'm stubborn and I believe in what I'm doing.  Now, thanks to my "excellent writing", there are people willing to read me, and not only read me but fall in love with my work.

Lin Ross is an email acquaintance.  I don't know the gentleman; he's  a fine novelist and we have a good online rapport. I decided to send him the manuscript of CONFESSIONS.  Yesterday I received this review of CONFESSIONS OF AN HONEST MAN, written by novelist/poet/musician/artist Lin Ross. I thank Lin from the depths of my heart.  He is nurturing and unselfish, a rare bird indeed.  To read the first two chapters, click this link:Confessions Of An Honest Man

"Confessions of An Honest Man"  a Novel by Art Rosch
 Reviewed by Lin Ross

What happens when the desires we think we want for the majority of our lives dangle there, within our grasp?   What happens when those special almost golden people who loomed as heroes prove to be not gods, but flawed and human?   "Confessions of an Honest Man," by Art Rosch , answers those intriguing questions, and sheds new light upon an era, a cultural explosion and an art-form too often romanticized, but rarely given the life, breath, and rhythms it truly deserves.  I speak here of the world of jazz and its players.  

Author Art Rosch masterfully takes our hand and leads us through the life of  his protagonist, Aaron Kantro from the  age of nine into adulthood where he meets his idol, the jazz legend "Zoot Prestige." In Rosch's world there is black and white (in the complexion of his characters, in society, and in metaphor), but there are also sweeping portions and broad strokes of gray. That gray is far more fascinating for it is there that the realities of these often harsh and sometimes painfully beautiful dualities exist.  

Is this the story a lost boy seeking a father figure? Yes... to a degree, perhaps. Between the pages, lurking there inside the lines, this is so much more. This is about life and how, in a moment, it can show us its most dazzlingly wonderful face, and then in the blink of an eye, its most hideous, ass-ugly underside.

There is a certain genius in the storytelling and when young Aaron makes it to 1960s New York City, the sound, fury and poignancy of jazz embraces you like a cool cerulean blue spot of neon. You are lost and found inside the grooves of these talented musicians: you are a blues traveler walking beside the cool bop of their struts and frets.  

Any young person reading this impressively inclusive novel might want to leave the warm yet stifling cocoon of home to venture out into the vast unknown, join a band, be hungry, and then be fed by the art of of creation. However, be forewarned, there are cautionary tales around almost every bend, and sometimes getting what we THINK we want might end up breaking our hearts in the process.  

This is one of those rare books filled with the liveliness of characters, dialogue, lessons, and such lushly vivid storytelling that the reader is haunted long after the final page is closed. Such is the poignancy and the precision of Rosch's pen.  

I look forward to more work from this author, because Art Rosch is a singular and deeply unique presence in the writing world: a truth-teller, an intrepid reporter of the streets and a chronicler of the human heart. This is an Artist who truly understands The Blues Condition and it is reflected so intriguingly here. 

BRAVO, Mr. Rosch! BRAVO!