Archive for the ‘pure fiction’ Category

strange vacation

Last summer, after walking away from the Arcosanti workshop and a relationship turned bitter, I found myself traipsing rather aimlessly from city to city, casino to casino, motel to motel simply in search of something to occupy my time without costing too much (low-limit poker, at which I rate to come out a tiny bit ahead,) inexpensive lodgings with air conditioning and whatever else fortune might toss my way. I wound up spending time in Prescott, Palm Springs, Joshua Tree, Las Vegas, Oceanside, Reno, Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area, with a finale in the Black Rock Desert at some overblown company picnic I couldn’t get away from soon enough, despite the presence of dear friends and fond memories. As Neil Young so poignantly sings, It’s easy to get buried in the past / When you try to make a good thing last….

It wasn’t a summer worth writing much about. I spent many hours at the $3/$6, $4/$8 and $8/$16 limit Hold’em tables, just about breaking even. I stared at the ceilings of many cheap Motel 6, &c rooms, wondering where to go next, following momentary whims and weather patterns and the occasional invitation, sometimes sleeping under the stars in Joshua Tree NP or some other place off the highway. I spent some hours pursuing random online research, beginning with an unfamiliar word or technical idea and often winding up in some ontological no-man’s-land, scratching my head over that proverbial left turn at Albuquerque. In honor of his recent passing, I read through the works of JG Ballard, whose words seemed to outline my day-to-day experiences and observations perfectly, his unique tongue the asonorous soundtrack to a mediocre waking nightmare. I had my classical guitar along for the ride, but rarely brought it out for air. I gained weight from long hours of sitting, a diet of junk food and the kind of neo-hyper-quasi-malt-liquor 28-Oz genocide beverages sold only in 7-Elevens in unseemly neighborhoods, and a nearly pathological avoidance of the outdoors, where the sun was waiting with a baseball bat and pepper spray. The creeping, narcotic effluvium of bad television oozed slowly in through my eyes and ears, carefully desensitizing entire regions of my brain to the “realities” of contemporary ultra-violence, incestuous ritual soap operas, Fox News and Adult Swim. I rather enjoyed all this as a sort of poor-man’s decadence, an escape from my own often overworking, over-imaginative mind.

I remained mostly in the desert, only rarely braving the high mountain tops and the ocean. I had allowed my flesh to become attuned to the desert climate, my desperate addiction to air-conditioned environments notwithstanding. The ocean, once my great expanse of solace and renewal, offered no comfort, nor did the overcrowded lakes at high altitudes; these felt like cardboard cut-out imitations of what I had once known, property values rising in inverse proportion to their actual worth as The Sprawl did its slow, inescapable dance of death over the rooftops and through the forests that separated these once beautiful regions from the metastasizing concrete oblivion of the cities of man, which reached out to them with furious tentacles of need, seeking nutrients and moisture.

This weekend I revisited that place, the air-conditioned motel room, not seeking a rendez-vous with the past, but hoping for temporary peace and a respite from the heat. Instead, I felt myself being sucked through a nozzle of inevitability, back to the doldrums of a slow suicide of alcoholism, malnutrition and indolence. I felt the great clocks all quickening, my will slowing to a standstill, my friends all fading into stylized digital impressions of themselves, the New Disease making its final bid for ownership of my body. The hum of the air conditioner over the brassy noise of the television passed on their orders to me from farther up the chain of command, the great chain of being, the food chain… Back on the chain gang, changing, changed.

Three youths, brown with sunburnt filth and diesel soot, held up a crude cardboard sign outside the gas station. “Spare change?”

hf, or why ham radio is not dead (part one)


Yuma Hamfest 2010, Yuma Fairgrounds: one by one, military aricraft make their landing descent just above our heads as we look up, perhaps with the same curiosity and bloodlust as NASCAR fans at once dreading and anticipating a deadly crash. Last year someone in military garb passed out leaflets at the hamfest, giving bogus orders to keep transmission power to 50 PEP or below on all frequencies. An exhibitor with one side of his family tree in the Marine Corps and the other in the FCC, told them politely, and quite rightfully so, to kiss off, unless this directive came from the FCC or a state of martial law had been declared. They seem to be punishing us as a group for last year’s transgression. Without fail, all day long, all weekend long, we must cover our ears every five minutes.

As soon as I reach the dirt parking lot of the fairgrounds, I recognize Hector’s Mexican call sign on California vanity plates, XE2K (while on American soil, he must sign as WT6J; the Mex call on US plates is a subtle irony.) I’m glad to see he’s here. Hector designs and installs antenna systems of all flavors for a living – data, ham, police, whatever – both in Mexico and in the U.S. Every time I meet him, I get at least one moderately mind-blowing lecture on some aspect of radio I never even knew existed. It’s exhausting, like a 3-hour workout in the gym is exhausting, but the long-term effects are invaluable. To quote a favorite line from a favorite movie, “The man’s enlarged my mind.“ And I’ve barely known him two months. Useful things, like how to use a satellite dish to improve cell phone reception by up to 20dB; how to set up a wireless internet bridge over tens of miles; how to get wire in the air and make it talk. Despite our scientific domestication of the electromagnetic spectrum, antenna theory still has the bulk of its wisdom cloaked in murky black magic. Hector is a brujo. His hidden agenda seems to be to get me active on 6m, the Twilight Zone of the ham spectra. On the elusive cusp of HF and VHF it’s neither fish nor fowl, but it swims and flies.

I don’t really know what to expect. This is my first ham thing. A weekend of overweight, aging men (mostly) and awkward, pimply boy scouts peddling everything from CB garbage to newfangled, sparkly technology some NASA engineers are probably envious of, with the feel of a mad scientist flea market and an American Legion spaghetti dinner, with ambulances, cops, military personnel (retired, for the most part) and a few “young” and bright-eyed freaks like me all played out on the virtually abandoned but carefully manicured fairgrounds that point to a recent past much more prosperous than the present uncomfortably stepping into its shoes. Permanent buildings for livestock, “the arts,” Shriner Clowns, 4H Club, etc. with vast, trimmed green lawns and desperately empty parking lots.

The call-in frequency seems to be dead, but a dutiful yet friendly woman’s voice comes right back at me when I toss out a casual request for a radio check on my HT. Someone has set up a repeater on 2m just for the fest. My first walk through the grounds takes me past several tents with stuff for sale – some antique keyers, decrepit hard drives, a drill press, a shiny Yaesu FT-1000; one large setup has a complete selection of Pb/acid batteries in more shapes and sizes than I even knew existed, plus cable, connectors, tools, vacuum tubes, variable capacitors, military surplus oscilloscope probes vacuum-packed in mylar bricks. In five years, about half the items I see today will be scientific heirlooms worthy of awe and wonder. Today they are still just junk, except to the discerning (and caring) few. Like the portable microbeam scope, ca 1947. Belongs in a museum, but you can have it for $25 without haggling.

In the main hall, I’m guided by some inner force to a vendor selling connecting aluminum/fiberglass poles. $2 each. What? I’ll take all of them, I tell the seller. While he’s busy talking, still trying to sell me on an item I’ve already bought, another buyer grabs the bag out from under me. Too late. I still have a chance to purchase ten of them in a loose pile, just enough to get the two ends of a pathetically low-to-the-ground 80m dipole (my first home-brewed antenna, by the way) a bit higher off the lossy ground. Exactly what I needed, and for twenty bucks.

I’m hooked.

It’s Friday, and the big day is tomorrow. I’m just here to get a basic feel for the event, and to double-check the seminar schedule. There are three or four seminars I’d like to attend tomorrow: Satellite Communications on 2.5mW; Kraft-Ebing Psychopathology of Disaster Sites; Introduction to Deadly Orgone Radiation; Hazmat & You, Post-9/11; Emergency Preparedness for Massive Electromotive Disruption. And of course, there’s the annual Buzzard BBQ.

I make a point of visiting every booth, if only briefly. Most of the exhibitors seem all too eager to tell me everything about every single product or service they’re hawking. Perhaps they’d tell me all about their spouses’ colonic biopsy or a buddy recently gone Silent Key (the most elegant and noble euphemism for death in any field I’ve come across.) But along with the sense that many here are clinging to a long lost glory I can never understand, I can smell the funky, fertile manure of a future about to emerge, bloody and screaming, from the teenage transhuman uterus of the present. In this boneyard of outmoded crystal oscillators, manuals for long-deceased radio circuits and analog forgottenhood, the mind-bending fungus of The Inevitable is developing with a will of its own, the nascent nervous system of an undocumented and unexpected Singularity: a global nerve net consisting of technologically fluent, warm-blooded human beings who know how to communicate, who know how to build transmitters from spare parts scrounged from burned analog TVs and who play well with others, with total strangers, be they from foreign countries, different generations, or distant galaxies.

to be continued….

background noise

HE was 44 when he first heard the voices. They could be heard, in his mind’s ear anyway, hovering in the background noise whenever an engine was running. He would turn his head to face the perceived source, and soon realize it could not possibly have come from there. Understanding the cognitive nature of this auditory “aliasing” illusion, he nevertheless decided to investigate the matter further. In other words, he asked himself what parts of his mind were generating these creepy, internal voices of Rorschachian ghosts.

THE voices sounded, for the most part, like song fragments on a transistor radio near a noisy fan – they would emerge and disappear, like odd, darting specimens in an aquarium. At times he was sure he recognized them; one was Patti Smith, another a friend from high school. There were many others that he did not recognize or never heard for long enough to foxhunt through his memory. In a dark corner, various 8-ohm loudspeakers from different technological epochs known as decades danced to the buzzing shimmy of filtered radio signals, his hallucinations dancing with them, seducing them, chiding them, turning his head this way and that, and always leaving him to his preferred silence when the last tarry fragments were evacuated from his lungs, and his metabolism had made short work of the toxins therein.

ON this particular evening, they had receded. He contemplated his [tape ends here]

unforseen consequences

someone i have never met sends me useful, unsolicited information about setting wellpoints. someone else i barely know has pledged to create an enormous scrap steel sculpture in my back yard. another someone, a good friend, is bringing me a piano tomorrow. one day i am lonesome; the next i am overrun with visitors. i am treated like royalty by high-tech transients camping out under the stars nearby. wildlife populations are thriving. i still have no idea what i’m doing, but i keep doing it anyway. and it seems to be subtly influencing the textures and geometries of the world around me, odd objects drawn to an aethereal magnet, unreadable, intangible. i dream of disasters, union with strange and beautiful women, the stars fading out one by one, mastering Debussy.

last night i read commentary by JG Ballard on the psychological impact of space exploration, not just on the astronauts but on the public, as being sinister and debasing. today Bruce Sterling tweeted his prediction of first contact with extraterrestrials in 2010 as something to jolt us out of our slump. i am laying in the tense, ionized liquid dichotomy of these two ideas, like a hobo in a boxcar full of warm, radioactive treasure.

dietary supplements and ammunition

…like prayers to the gods of entropy, save us from what protects us, save us from what we desire, intervene where we are no longer willing to look…

contrapuntally, the manuscript was highlighted in pink over phrases such as, “found the head again in the corner,” and “never listens to the sky.”

at night he can hear them whispering, just beyond the perimeter. they are jackals; he is carrion. he’s waiting to be eaten, slowly taking in his own stink through dry nostrils.

nirvana: several bad lines of code; an abandoned quonset. if you look closely enough, you can see the aeroplanes are actually alive.

list of items in M—-’s collection

  • X-Ray photograph of a coyote feeding on a human infant
  • logbook of meteorological data from 1879-2033, Colorado desert
  • index of eyewitness UFO reports, southern California, 1960-1989
  • approx. 2G cocaine, cut with Mannitol and colored chalk, arranged in lines forming a mandala
  • sulfuric acid, >90%, in mayonnaise jars on an upper shelf
  • The Place of Dead Roads, by Wm. S. Burroughs, bookmarked at page 121
  • operator’s log, amateur radio station ZQX1S, 160m cw, 1939-1956
  • Hustler magazine, 1986-1989
  • satellite map of the Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range, featuring mock Vietnamese and US-American midwestern villages
  • log of transmission frequencies, broadcast times and content from ‘numbers stations,’ presumably based in South America, 1989-2009
  • the complete works of H.P. Lovecraft, translated into Mayan glyphs, Esperanto
  • photographs of M—’s father as an infant, toddler, adolescent, college student, bachelor
  • photograph of M—’s mother in wedding dress, framed
  • Egyptian hieroglyphs representing: premature death; a wedding; war; the end of the world; birth of quintuplets
  • American passport with entry stamps from Switzerland, the EU, Tanzania, The Sudan, Egypt, Democratic Republic of Congo, Northwest Territories, Iceland
  • Bizarre Encounters comics, 1956-1978
  • encyclopedic genomes of radiolaria
  • fragment of a drawing by Henry Darger on butcher paper, depicting young girls with penises in bondage
  • desktop Tesla coil
  • carved African fetish, Congo, ca. 1826, stolen from an exhibition in Tuebingen
  • letters from Luz Kaminazuki, 1998-2001
  • audio recordings of Will Oldham, Kenneth Patchen, Bernd Alois Zimmermann
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