Sunday, August 26, 2007

Democratic Primaries: Argle-Bargle or Foofaraw?

REMEMBER MY POST ABOUT the primary reshuffling for the upcoming prez dogfight? The plot has emulsified, both because of a new proposed shift by the Michigan legislature, and the wrath of the Democratic National Committee against its electoral minions in the state that set off the scramble, Florida.

First, Michigan. The State Senate began mulling a date move last week. The target: January 15. This would fall one day after the Iowa caucuses if that state moves to Tuesday, January 14. Typically, Iowa schedules its beauty contest 8 days prior to any other race, so this would suggest a different date on their part. More confusingly, according to the NYT Caucus Blog, different factions of Dems are pushing for different methods of polling; Clinton's goons want a primary, whereas the Edwards camp wants caucuses. The Republicans have less of a problem with this affair than the Dems, and one could actually benefit: Mitt Romney's father George was once Michigan's governor. One thing is clear: Michigan's had a history of wanting an earlier primary, and now, emboldened by the recent date shuffling, they're feeling brave enough to grab an earlier date.

The DNC's response to Florida's move might temper their fire, though. (See this Times article for more details.) Some months ago, they moved their primary to January 29 in compliance with the (Republican) State Legislature's vote and GOP Governor Crist's signature. Despite this compliance, this defied a DNC ruling allowing only South Carolina and Nevada to shift their primaries, while preserving the positions of Iowa and New Hampshire as first and second in the process.

As punishment, the DNC has given Florida officials 30 days to change their minds or lose their delegates at the convention. Although that Times article speculates the nominee could choose to override this and seat the Sunshine State's delegates nonetheless, it projects an image of discord the Democrats can ill afford, less than one year after seizing Congress and facing the incredible gift of an incumbent Republican president at the nadir of his popularity.

(All of this electoral froth leaving you yenning for a graphic? The NYT delivers.)

This has great impact on the candidates, who even now must allocate their logistical and advertising dollars. It also casts Florida in the role of seeming to queer another election, especially if the candidates begin sniping at one another and the Republicans, as they did in 1968 and 1972, allow the freaks to make a spectacle of themselves, and slide past it into office.

Why worry about the nuts and bolts of the election four-and-change months before the first lever is pulled? I am rereading Stephen Elliott's criminally neglected Looking Forward to It, which I had the privilege to read as live, emailed dispatches he sent while trailing the Democratic contenders across the country. One tends to forget, after a candidate is chosen, how that person got there, and this makes a chronicle like Elliott's (or Hunter Thompson's) critical in reminding one's self of the bumpy road the race follows. I don't know if Elliott is undertaking the same thing for 2008. His website doesn't say so, and MySpace pages make me homicidal so I won't check what he says there.

It may fall to a skilled selection of blogs and newspaper links for me to get the same sort of daily-fix dosage of political wisdom that Elliott or Thompson offered. It may also be why I am noting these bizarre parliamentary manuevers on the part of the state caucuses, to have some record of the process written somewhere besides the shifting sands of public sentiment and fading memory.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Hurricane Schizohedron Destroys Tons of Apartment Clutter

INSPIRED BY A SPATE of recent posts on personal finance/simple living blogs about the horrors of clutter, I have begun sweeping the decks with greater industry than I've shown in months. Although I successfully dump junk mail into the shredder within minutes of its arrival (unless it's not personalized, in which case it just goes in the trash outside the front door), there were a few feet of dead files and defunct paper in closets and file cabinets that no longer needed to exist.

Previous attempts to purge this crap were sidetracked by the twin scourges of sentiment and nostalgia. Both are fatal to a clutter-free domicile or workstation. There's only one type of love you should have for academic papers from 15 years ago, yellowed newspaper clippings long since made available on the Internet, letters from estranged friends, or clothing that you wouldn't wear even if you could fit into it: tough love.

I wanted to walk a straight line across my bedroom without what my pal Felix once referred to as "crap reefs" impeding my progress. When I'm beelining to the john in the dark at five in the morning, the last thing I need to find underfoot is a pile of hangers or a mound of unpaired socks. I wanted to face facts about the houseplants from the salt mine that were slowly dying, and free up room for thriving organisms of the human species to congregate. I wanted to weed my book collection of anything I hadn't touched in a decade and had no plans ever to pick up again. I wanted, in the style of TLC clutter-buster and author of It's All Too Much, to free up the mindshare and time that maintaining, moving, and negotiating all of this clutter was costing me.

I set a gradual process. I chose small goals. The filing cabinet was first. One folder per night. I selected my "A" folder one night before bed, instead of some reading material, and began making two piles of paper. The shredder would claim one of them. With only one folder to clean out, there was far less risk of my getting absorbed in some reading material and lose my momentum. I dug in my heels at sentiment, trusting my memory to recall the good things such-and-such a cartoon, article, or note had brought me. The shredding pile outweighed the remainder. A good start.

After getting a running start on the alphabet, I used some of my copious free time in the early evening to attack the kitchen. I had scored a huge success months ago by dumping what must have been 30 of those plastic 32-oz. yogurt tubs. I suppose I imagined using these as planters; indeed, I have some rubber plant clippings and syngonium sprouts growing out of them. But the number I was storing was sufficient to start a pot farm. Not looking forward to a stay in Federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison, I've not availed myself of that moneymaking horticultural career path.

Now, while examining the cabinets above my fridge (and a side note here; with half of my complex occupied by elderly women who can barely stand straight, how the hell are they ever gonna reach these fucking things if I can barely get to them from a chair?), I discovered that I had never chucked the lids from all of these yogurt containers. I had a teetering tower of lids in the back of the cabinet. Absurd. Out they went. Out, too, went a clutch of expired spice jars, a tube of instant rice I recall purchasing with a coupon a few months after I moved in, a half-bag of buckwheat flour, and a few more items I no longer wanted. I found a few more sealed, edible foodstuffs that will go out to the next food drive I spot.

Next on the block was a pile of plasticware: trays, those covered Versatainer things, and big bowls, all rescued from the saltmine. My previous office had frequent catering service, sometimes for visiting professionals who might be wooed with food to stock our books in their school libraries, other times by managers running out their quarterly budgets by buying themselves and their fellow suits sandwiches and snacks. The food came in the Versatainers and on heavy plastic trays or in bowls that uniformly got thrown away. This waste disgusted me, so I took the opportunity to stock my own pantry with enough plasticware to accommodate chips for the poker crowd or desserts for the holiday-party gang.

Well, I got a little overzealous. I must've rescued about a dozen each of the small and large covered containers, about 10 trays and bowls, and a stack of aluminum trays from previous Sterno setups. Unless I was planning on feeding the entire complex, and sending half of them home with a week's worth of leftovers, I didn't need all of this shit. So I took half of the Versatainers over to my parents' place and offered them as many as they wanted, and recycled those that they didn't. The trays and tinfoil shit just went into the trash. I can now see the wall behind the rack on which they sat, and my cabinets are shockingly free and ready to hold only what needs to be held — which, considering I was able to survive without using every container in the house, may simply be nothing at all.

Back to the bedroom. The shelf over my clothing rack was groaning with surplus matter. I snatched up a huge sheaf of papers and began sorting. It turned out to be a pile of my college papers. Digging through called to mind the many nights and weekend I had labored, spreading open three or four books at a time as I typed notes into my Mac SE/30, then holding my ears as the print head of my ImageWriter II screeched out undergraduate wisdom at a pokey pace. Doing these papers taught me how to organize, write and think. The skills thus acquired, the papers themselves could go the way of all things. For the most part I avoided reading the professors' comments on the work as I dropped the vast majority of them into my shredder. I was stunned, though, to see again how much some of them had written. It's tough to imagine any overworked academic, himself or herself pounding out prose to fulfill their own tenure, having the time to scribe a few pointers or compliments above and beyond the letter grade across the back of a paper. Like the act of writing the work, I had benefitted long ago from their compliments, critiques, and written wisdom. I had space for them in my mind; I no longer needed them in my apartment.

The job's not done yet. In slicing the labor into small bouts of productivity, it'll take many weeks to get this place as far down to the walls and rugs as I can make it. With more time during the day to do it, now that I work closer to the joint, and with being free of the need to maintain or ever move this shit to another apartment, the work is its own reward. Keeping the crap from building up again will be an ongoing process, but seeing this place in a state of minimal, easily maintained grace will support me in that quest.

And if I can apply that logic to my fat ass, well, that's like winning two wars with the same secret weapon.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Photoshoot From Last Week Part 2

THE SAME DAY I had my portrait taken at work, the staff artist who lays out our magazine's pages asked if I'd like to model in a shoot for one of the feature articles. The story, part of a series on nurse guidelines for various hospital emergencies, required a shot of a nurse aiding an unconscious patient who had fallen out of bed. They already had a female staffer to play the part of a caregiver. The price: Credit at one of two local restaurants.

To the question of whether I could pretend to be unconscious at work, for regular pay plus food, the answer is always yes.

The shoot was scheduled for nine the next morning. As a "patient," I would be wearing a hospital gown, selected from a wide range of medical outfits we had for such shoots. Regardless of pattern, I suspected the design would match that of other hospital gowns: My ass might be hanging out. Figuring that I hadn't been there long enough to work blue, I brought a pair of gym shorts to wear under the gown.

The next day soon rolled into port. Shortly before the shoot, I slipped into the john and switched into my shorts. I kept my work shirt on, though, which lent me a look, from a distance, of not actually wearing any pants. The black socks halfway up my calves lent a nice touch. The only thing separating me from being a New Yorker cartoon was a pair of garters. Realizing this, with comic timing, shortly after I had left the bathroom, I figured let's just get down there and fast-walked the length of the office looking like the last 15 seconds of a Benny Hill skit. (Sadly, without "Yakety Sax.")

The photo studio was empty. No "nurse," no art guy, no freakin' photographer. Figuring one walk through the workplace with a draft was enough, I pulled my work pants over my shorts and went back to my desk.

About a half hour later, all of those involved in the shoot were finally in the office, and we could proceed. I headed down with one of the other editors in my group, a retired nurse and the person who edited the piece in question. She would guide the "nurse" in posing herself and in convincingly rolling the "patient" onto his side.

In a stunning burst of dexterity, I managed to tie myself into the gown without aid, thus sparing someone the joy of scrutinizing my densely forested back. I padded in bare feet into the studio, where the photographer was setting up a ladder outside a well-lit spot of floor—my destination. I lay down on the linoleum so he could take a couple of warmup shots to test the lighting. Presently, our "nurse" entered, resplendent in scrubs, and we were off.

I did my best to splay myself convincingly without looking like I was exaggerating (think of how the Family Guy animators render someone who's fallen down stairs). The real nurse guided my costumed coworker in appearing to roll me over to the position described in the article. I went limp and let her rock me to and fro.

The photographer took about 25 shots before the nurse/editor declared the coverage complete. Once again, I watched the files load onto the screen. There I was, looking like a hapless escapee from a hospital bed, being repositioned by a caregiver before further aid arrived. Aside from the slim black fringe of shorts poking from 'neath my gown, fairly convincing.

The shoot thus done, and the shots for the mag chose, the time came for me to return to my office garb. For being such a patient "patient," the nurse/editor coworker said I'd definitely get the call for future shots. If so, I can use the food comp I got as payment with casual abandon. Oddly enough, by the end of the whole affair, I felt quite comfy in the gown. No belt, no pockets full of crap, no dress shoes stifling my feet . . . I could get used to this. Perhaps in 40 years or so, during whatever long slide guides me into the crematorium. My mind flicked back to Howard Hughes tottering around in his top-floor suite at the Desert Inn, until I realized that he actually lounged about in the nude, with the possible exception of Kleenex boxes on his feet. Again, maybe someplace I'll end up when a few more marbles get knocked out of the circle. But not yet . . . not quite yet.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Photoshoot From Last Week Part 1

I HAD TWO PHOTO sessions with the staff photographer last week. I'll detail the first, and more sobering, here.

I had been told that I would have a headshot portrait taken earlier last week. The redesign of our magazine includes photos of the editorial board members, and I believe they want to be able to add the writers and editors too. Also, the PR woman wanted to put an announcement out that the company had hired a new senior editor for the magazine, so she needed a shot to offer anyone who might actually care to run a note in their publication.

To that end, I came in on Wednesday with my favorite Oxford shirt and headed down to the studio. It's actually quite substantial, with computer-controlled lighting, multiple backdrops, and even a hospital bed and a range of medical clothing in case we need to produce something not available in stock-photo collections. My needs were much simpler, and once the photographer popped a large memory card into his camera, we were ready to roll.

He took about 25 shots, some with me sitting normally, others with my arms over the back of my chair, each time saying, "Money" instead of, "Cheese." I didn't ask him why, but if I had to guess, I would say that the smiles produced using the more familiar word tend to look much more exaggerated.

Once done, he transferred his shots to the Mac beneath his desk (using a setup that named and copied them to a second drive all at once, very slick). I got to choose which one I preferred. This was fairly simple, as I really don't like the way I appear in any photos, so I chose the one that made me cringe the least.

Our photographer being a modern gent, he immediately commenced some Photoshop retouching on it. Although he claimed his work as I watched was superficial and that he'd go to work on it later, in three minutes or so he did a shitload of corrective work. It's not because my features are so spotless. His skill, possibly combined with custom retouching tools he had added to his version of Photoshop, was sure and swift.

It was at this moment that I realized I would never be a graphic designer.

This is no surprise to me, but it wasn't until I watched this guy at work that I completely divorced myself from the dream. The work I had seen at Pratt's show was all complete upon my visit. Seeing this guy work, seemingly by inborn instinct, underscored how being a late arrival to the design world was a severe handicap. To be at his level, or the level of any of the artists at the office (we have an actual art department and director), I would have had to start when my age was in single digits, surely when these folks' interest in illustration was born.

It is actually liberating to know that I don't ever have to claim greater competence in that realm. I will detail some of the things I've been doing at the new place, one very exciting, that take the place of that nebulous whimsy that I might be a designer. I can concentrate on the skills now being used in this position, both in editing — strong, but long neglected in my last job — and writing — potentially the greatest of my talents. Though I can use Photoshop in a fairly primitive way, thanks to the class, I was not depressed to see someone use it to our photographer's level of skill. Rather, it made me realize I had the power to sharpen my editing and writing talents to the point where they are as fluid and assured as his in the realm he chose.

He did help me realize one other talent I hadn't realized I had, which will be the subject of my next post.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Electoral Date Creep for our Elected Creeps

IN CASE YOU HAVE been screening out the rising jabber about the American electoral process in favor of more mellifluous sounds, such as the sonic backdrop of a slaughterhouse, you may not have noticed some date creep in the electoral calendar. Specifically, the primaries have moved, as a group, closer to the beginning of the year. The old March "Super Tuesday" comprising the electoral dates of eight states has now metastasized into a 20-state scrum in early February. Although this is a boon for New Jersey voters, who were long marooned in June, after most of the horse-dealing in recent elections has been settled, this might create a wildly top-heavy and early peak to the electoral cycle.

Naturally, the concept of "early" is moot if you realize that the campaigns began months ago, if only as "exploratory committees," even before all of the current prostitutes candidates had declared. Stumping, posturing, and saber-rattling in the name of fundraising has been proceeding since the beginning of the year. But the mass public does not have to show up somewhere on a Tuesday to influence that process. Come 2008, they do.

Or possibly come December 2007. I caught a report on NPR this week about how the state electoral boards are now playing date-hockey in the hopes of regaining their distinct position in the cycle, what with the new February Super Tuesday.

South Carolina decided this week that both of its party primaries would be held on Saturday, January 19. (The NPR report explains that Florida's primary move to January 29 triggered this shift.) Not only does this place it on the same day as the Nevada primary, but it also leapfrogs the New Hampshire primary, currently on Tuesday, January 22. The Iowa straw polls traditionally precede New Hampshire by 8 days, which would place them on January 14, 2008.

Now, by state law, New Hampshire's primary must remain first in the nation. They are now obliged to move to a date prior to South Carolina's primary, now tentatively identified as January 8. This, in turn, forces the organizers of the Iowa caucuses to shift their date. There now stands an excellent chance that you will see the stereotyped TV news shots of candidates harassing Iowans in diners, at churches, and about their polling places in late December.

It was difficult enough to focus the attention of the American electorate on primaries not in their own states in the old schedule. Now, with the formal launch of the presidential race possibly slated for the holiday season, the hugely influential New Hampshire primary wedged into the NFL postseason, and this new mega-Super Tuesday pegged 2 days after the Super Bowl, the next 4 years of the Republic will be defined amid a deeply distracted time. If the current chaos in the housing and credit markets triggers a shortfall in the all-important consumer spending cycle between Halloween and New Year's Eve, you can add to the media noise all manner of doomstruck predictions for the stock market.

What's more, by that season, there's a good chance that Americans will be sick of hearing from whatever candidates survive the current cash scramble and claw their way into the fall. Hopefuls are sniping at one another, both within their parties and at their rivals across the ideological divide. Few have listened to their early debates or followed their recent straw polls. It takes an interactive or color-coded table to tell these bastards apart.

And then, what of the rest of the campaign? Gone are the days of 1972, when the frontrunner's supposed lock on a state could hinge on the favor of a local party boss or the caprice of a delegation at the convention. Only by reading contemporary reports like Thompson's or Stephen Elliott's road's-eye view of the 2004 contest, Looking Forward To It, can one recall the shifting status of temporary idols and fallen hopefuls as polls, rumors, and money toss their fortunes to and fro. And by the current day, primaries are more like coronations, at which point the intraparty strife is forgotten save for some brief thumb-wrestling over the Right vice president.

With the campaigns peaking in March, giving us two near-lock names for the finals in November, doesn't the general election become a distant afterthought? Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004 lead one to question if the popular vote even matters any more. You can expect the negative campaigning and the Monday morning quarterbacking on the part of talk radio and to suffuse the entire spring and summer leading up to the nominating conventions. By the time the debates finally get scheduled after the traditional backroom knife-fight between the two corner teams over format, moderator, venue, and the like, we shall be thoroughly sick of the entire process . . . a malaise we can ill afford at that point in history.

This seems a lousy way to choose a leader with one of the most thankless to-do lists since the one Harry Truman inherited when FDR died.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Plants Banned at my New Job

I OWE THE LOYAL readership a post on my first month of service with the new employer, but while I have the computer warm, I'd like to issue a blurb about the most noteworthy negative of the joint thus far.

When I visited the office for my interview, I noticed it had a newly furnished look to it, like the company had just moved in. This was true; up until November 2006, they had been based in an adjoining town, a short drive away. There was still a faint whiff of new-carpet smell in the air of the new office. But another feature, which I didn't immediately register but which I somehow knew in my gut, and which I had confirmed for me once I read the employee manual, is quite surprising.

The company does not allow plants. Not in the offices, not at the desks, not even in the lobby. That's why the place looked so sterile: No green shoots popping up over the cube walls. No life other than human.

This is the first workplace I've had where plants were forbidden. My dad, from whom I inherit my green thumb, had to bring a few of his home when his company moved, but I believe that was only because they didn't want to burden the movers with any inessential labor. At both of my previous workplaces, I did my best to fill my cubes with greenery. I met my greatest success with the ubiquitous and unkillable pothos. When I left my first job, I took a large bucket of trellising pothos vines, and left behind its parent, itself trailing several feet of lovely green and yellow leaves. Its tendrils continued to engulf the cube in my absence.

Lugging home the plants from my last job was a multi-trip burden. I assumed they would endure a short stay in my apartment — which has only filtered eastern exposure — before bringing them into the new joint. I also planned to buy a brand new plant, as I had at the last job, to mark the months and (possibly) years of my stay there. Again, a pothos would be a perfect start; they hit new offices with a running start.

So you can imagine my disappointment when, which paging through the pile of HR bafflegab that arrived before I started, I spotted an entry about how plants were banned. They cited bugs and mildew (from spilled water) as the reasons. I can only imagine how truly serious they were. Had they sustained such a horrible infestation at their previous location that they had to bar all new flora? Was someone overreacting to an article they had read on the horrors of that house-eating black mold? Did someone trip over a stray vine, and issue an overreacting ukase against plant life, ordering all syngonia and schefflerae, all spathiphylla and sansevieriae, to be burned, Burgermeister Meisterburger–like, in the public square?

Neh, probably just corporate idiocy and paranoia over future exterminator bills. Sad. The beneficial atmospheric effects of indoor plants are well known; and with recent info in the press about aerial particulate toner being hard on the lungs, the more absorption of toxins, the better. Especially for an office where the furniture and rugs are still off-gassing volatile organic chemicals.

So for now, I will concentrate on the positive aspects of this office and the job I hold therein, and reserve judgment on this odd quirk. Perhaps, should I stay there a while, I could organize a petition to overturn it. With a garden center just down the road, populating my cube with greenery would occupy about half a lunch hour.

Photo: Golden Pothos by Elvis Ripley. Some rights reserved.

Rebuilding Iraq While America Collapses

BOB SCHIEFFER, THE HOST of CBS's Face the Nation, made a fine point last week. While speaking with the hosts of the drivetime CBS 880 radio broadcast, he contrasted the eroding American municipal and transportation infrastructure — symbolized by the recent Minneapolis bridge collapse — with the money we're laying out for the reconstruction of Iraq. He cited in passing a spending rate of $200,000 per minute on various projects there. In a short opinion piece on CBS, Schieffer — whose stint as anchor of the Evening News was far too brief — provides additional detail on how America is pouring cash into an ungrateful nation on projects that are either unwanted or mismanaged by their new Iraqi owners.

The decrepitude of our infrastructure was driven home again this Friday, when lightning struck and disabled the power at the water-treatment facility that serves my area of New Jersey. Both the main plant's juice and its backup generators were knocked out, forcing 800,000 Bergen County and northern Hudson County residents to curtail outdoor water use and boil anything they drink or use for cooking. Between this practice, the mass shutdown of restaurants to avoid contamination, and the mad rush to the stores to buy bottled water, Northern New Jerseyans got to spend a day or so with a little taste of how citizens countries with trashed public works fare. The only problem is that we don't have a rich foreign sugar daddy to bail us out.

At this rate, we don't have to worry about terrorists disrupting our transportation, financial, or agricultural networks. The acid of time and the poison of neglect will get the job done without anyone having to get Semtex under their fingernails.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

William S. Burroughs: The Junky, They Called Him

I GO THROUGH PHASES in which I crawl into one author's books, just burrow through them to the exclusion of all else. Usual culprits include the works of Henry Rollins, Hunter S. Thompson, and the man who died 10 years ago today, William S. Burroughs. Ever since then, I occasionally need to hear a polyglot babble echoing through the shadowed sinuses of Tangier, feel the baleful gaze of Doctor Benway as he leers across an incriminating file on his desk, or walk the windy avenues of Manhattan in search of a junk connection, aching — vicariously, I assure you — to satiate the Algebra of Need.

Burroughs initially denied his destiny as a writer, despite some fitful early efforts and the insistence of Jack Kerouac. Sliding through life as (among other things) an exterminator, dope peddler, lush roller, and gentleman farmer of marijuana, Burrough's fate eventually caught up with him in the form of a deadly game of William Tell with his speed-freak wife, Joan Vollmer. An "Ugly Spirit" descended upon Burroughs, as he described it, and the only way to be free of it was to "write [my] way out."

Even before confronting the Ugly Spirit, he had been crafting his wryly comical routines for years with his experiences, and verbally, with his early associates and future Beat legends, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. Once he began writing in earnest, out poured his experiences with the needle into Junky. From the furtive silence of a repressed era, his homosexual longings found light in Queer, even if the book itself could not be published for decades. And from the post-Hiroshima reality of the Nazi control system being overthrown in favor of East–West national security paranoia and literary censorship, from the dawning age of faceless computers and the advertising shuck replacing the old carny con, from Burroughs's flirtations with medical school, psychiatry, and extermination of sinister arthropods in countless Chicago tenements, rose his signature literary nightmare, Naked Lunch.

I love Burroughs's prose because it seems to have infinite space within it. Neuromancer, American Tabloid, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas evoke this feeing in me . . . a desire to crawl into the book and explore, with the sense that I will indeed find something around the corners. This is odd in the case of Burroughs's' work, as Junky is a spare, direct narrative, and Naked Lunch seems to take place only occasionally in our familiar world. He frames his work with just enough supports, so that the shocking or humorous images in the rooms he has built have all the more impact. And you want to look in the attic once he has done so. But always, the end of the book or story boots you out the door.

When Burroughs himself exited, as all of must, it has been written that many were surprised he was still alive. Yet there he was, back in the genteel Midwest he had spent so long eliminating from his system, with his paintings and guns and the words still flowing. In his old age, Burroughs took on an androgynous beauty, only falling fully into the male category when he spoke in his sly, croaking drawl, by turns wising up the marks with his hard-won wisdom and admitting his foolishness in a world where nobody, ultimately, beats the Mark Inside. I had a dream several months ago in which I was in his house in Lawrence, Kansas, sitting beside him on a couch while he read from his diary. His voice and manner were so comfortable that I closed my eyes and rested my head on his ancient shoulder. Don't worry, the next scene in the dream didn't involve a session with the original Steely Dan. I just let his words carry me into one of those infinite spaces of his.

I have Naked Lunch in my workbag for tomorrow. I may just take it to bed as my nighttime reading, and if I wake up with white hair or a centipede body, so be it. I'll ring up Doc Benway for instructions.