Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Never Forget!. . .(light cream, no sugar)

Our private pasts don't exist, they're immaterial and are best left forgotten. Right? Or haven't you ever dabbled in a 12-step program.
Then we have our collective past--the one that we are compelled to grapple with though it be a slippery, indefinable varmint.
First, though, I gotta tell you, I see this past as neither here nor there.

But what so many believe (or bought hook, line and sinker) is that what we have he'ah are hallowed remembrances of not-so disparate iconic values--call it the "campaign stump past". You know the one. It's the demagogue's feeding trough. It is the torch standard we obsessively try to pass from one age demographic to the next. It is the bona fide, indisputable, rigid inner core of our civilization's mantle. Dubious? You betcha! But it's what kept Reagan in office for eight years.

Now, I could buy into all of this if, say, my grandparents had been shoeless, straight-off-the boat, steerage-class sod busters, and their children, my parents went from being yearning, tempest tossed and huddled and envolved into shabbily shod (but shod nonetheless) townsfolk who street vended rags from a push cart, chanting in heavily accented but choked by on-again off-again TB'ed English, "we gotta some (hack, hack) mighty fine'a rags'a fer sale" (hack, hack), and then if I were, well, maybe what I am, an English teacher with a closet full of knock off Nikes and Polo shirts, and a hybrid midwestern twang with a touch of a south Louisiana drawl.

If this were the case, that within two generations my gene pool went from mucking a living out of the muck to me, then I would concede that in some way I should respect my grandparents' and parents' fortitude enough to at least light the odd votive candle for them the next time I happen upon a Cat'lick or Buddhist or Hindu prayer grotto.

But the truth is, the only corporal AND spiritual difference I see between my grandparents', my parents' and my life is that the old Hollywood studio system has been forever changed by the rise of provocative, low budget indies. Other than that, everything is just planned obsolesence and retro-or neo-what-have-you.

Lookit. My grandpa would've done Lauren Bacall. My father would have done Lauren Bacall. And hell, I'd do Lauren Bacall.

That Bacall remains a most doable octogenarian is something hardly worth proclaiming on Flag Day.
Now. Round here, and by "here" I mean in filthily oil enriched instant-civilizations up and down the Arabian Gulf, there exists the same sort of reverence for ancestral traditions. But unlike where I'm from, these Gulf Arab types did sort of have sod busting grandparents. But instead of the log and mud hovels of sod busters, they lived in similarly impoverished dwellings--in tents in the desert if they tended goats or in one-room, date palmed thatched huts along the coasts if they fished or dove for pearls. They commuted to these limited vocations generation after generation after generation going back to triple digit A.D. centuries by donkey or camel. Or they walked.

So just a few years after the big, big bucks surged in like a gold capped tsunami, my students' parents didn't have to learn pearl diving or goat herding; they went on to become make-work bureaucratic townsfolk. They drove cars. They enjoyed central a/c. They began to face the tough choices that my people face--like pizza or Chinese tonight?

So, in as much time as it takes to get three films out of Terrance Mallick or to see the New Orleans Saints get into the play-offs, these Gulf Arab Romes were built in a day (or two). And my students, they have satellite TV bringing them 85 channels with nothing to watch, X-Boxes loaded with Grand Theft Auto 1 through 4, Nano-Pods with playlists full of I-Tunes downloads ranging from thrash metal to gangsta. They drink Red Bull to keep themselves hyper active and wear Crocs on their feet to get them around the newest world's largest mall--at least one of these opens up every month.

First there was no mountain. There was a mountain. Then there was a bigger, newer and improved mountain, then there was the world's largest 7-star mountain--all told, this happened in less than fifty years. Many of those pearl diving grand folks are still around to tell their tales of life before half nekkid white women walked the streets.

As a result, Dubai Eye TV news special reports, student PowerPoint presentations, the ubiquitous heritage villages are constantly going on about preserving the past which seems in comparison to my culture, a distant almost Biblical past--that just so happens to be in relatively recent memory.

And the symbol of that heritage, the emblem of their communal, collective consciousness, that tie that binds. . . is coffee.

We have our flag and it represents the first thirteen colonies--a generation going back many, many, many generations to those who had big brass balls, told their King to sod off then went on to forge our civilization by the sweat of their brows, the shedding of blood-theirs and whose ever got in their way.

Gulf Arabs, a fiercely proud, loose confederation of bedouin tribes have their "Never Forget" eternal flame. It's the coffee pot. The coffee pot is their Fleur de Lis, their Liberty Bell, their Lion and Unicorn. They erect monuments to it throughout every city in every souvereign oil rich state. It seems to be proclaiming: Lest we forget, by the grace of God, we bear witness that coffee is the absolute representation of this dominion, and no other beverage ought to be of any consequence within this sacred realm.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

53 Today: What I Haven't Learned

How to shower with liquid soap. I am not sure if I use too much or if one has to use a lot. One squirt per body sector, right? Or do you stand outside of the spray and splurch a massive amount onto one sector, preferably a stubbly area that helps agitate the suds, then begin radiating full body from there?

What it means if something is "organic" and that something is not food. For example, recently someone described my guitar playing as "organic"--was I insulted? I've Googled things like "organic poetry" and know for a fact that nobody really seems to know what this trendy adjective means in the context of poetry, and if poets can't define it, then who can?

How to whistle through my fingers, blow bubble gum or burp on command--something every kid I grew up with seemed to master with inate ease.

How to really use chopsticks. I have my method, and it works, but anytime I've been in a Far off East Asian culture and have used them in front of Far off East Asians, someone invariably mutters something in a language I don't understand which produces polite but patronizing churtles and giggles all around the table.

How to eye ball the length of a football field. I never played football so when it is used as a unit of measurement, I haven't any idea just how long the damn thing is.

How to type without looking at the keyboard and use more than three fingers or, if I'm feeling frisky and lucky, maybe four fingers. Alongside this inability is using spell check. Spell check is something I usually brush off, like keeping elbows off tables, buckling seat belts before I put the car into gear, sitting up straight and not taking a pull on a communal milk bottle or carton.

Just what the fuck a matrix is.

How to correctly properly reverse my body after swimming the length of a swimming pool.

How to remember whether it's Griffin or Griffith for either Andy, Merv or Melanie.

How to comfortably sit cross legged; how to sit in a Lotus position (period!).

How to use "sardonic" in a sentence and know that I have accurately described the person who is being this (same goes for poignant).

How to relax when told to do so.

How to let it go when begged to do so.

How to fold sheets solo.

Ice skate.

The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost thing--although I am probably not the only one who doesn't know this.

How to use layers in Photoshop. I always have to tinker and usually I just get lucky and it happens.

The difference between being dramatic, overly dramatic and melodramatic. Boiling water is boiling water, am I right?

Relevant or Relevent?

The difference between pathos and bathos. I know the first is nicer than the second but both can hurt the feelings of a writer in a workshop whose work is being critiqued.

That a three-way isn't as much fun as it looks in the movies.

Blind cat sharjah link

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Think Locally / Act Locally

Last weekend the American University of Sharjah held its annual Global Day. Schools in the US usually have such a day when all of the international students converge in the quad, set up booths that serve nibbles common to their international taste buds, wear the knock-about apparel that their grandparents still dress in. Let's face it--T's and jeans have become the garment franca around the world. Don't believe me? Next time you see a gang of Palestianian kids chunking rocks at an Israeli tank, count those wearing the robes and hear gear then count those wearing Ronaldo soccer jerseys and knock-off Dockers.

So first we visited the Yemen tent where the students were wearing thobes and ghutras (the robes and head gear)while handing out free cups of Arabic coffee, bowls of Mammouniah, Creamy Almond Rice Pudding and Lubnan. All quite tasty. There were musicians strumming on Ouds, banging on the Darbukkah, a type of hand-drum and blowing plaintive melodies on a flute called a Nay. In a section of their tent, young women were having their hands decorated with elaborate henna designs.

Next we visited the Qatari tent where students dressed in thobes and ghutras passed out freebies likes Arabic coffee and yummies like Mammouniah and Lubnan while musicians played their Nays, their Ouds and hand drums. Free henna tattoos were available in the back of the tent.

At the Kuwaiti tent, the students hadn't applied for a musical permit so there were no musicians. And instead of thobes, the students wore dishdashas. That's what Kuwaitis call thobes--dishdahsas--same difference. And they passed out free coffee of the Arabic variety and Paal Payasam which is a sort of creamy rice pudding. They did have a stereo set-up though, and the music the DJ played was Kuwaiti love songs, all played on the Oud and backed by hand drums.

Tent after tent--Global Day was actually a celebration of local sameness.

The Iranian tent was somewhat different than the other Gulf country tents. Iranians, you see, are not Arabs, and if you call an Iranian an Arab, he'll cut your balls off and serve them to you with saffron rice and Black Alghazaleen tea. The Iranian students charged for their food. No surprise I suppose since the Iranian economy sucks as bad as the US economy. The kids probably needed the extra pocket money.

We also had the best time in the Iranian tent. There was some sort of Iranian Hora-like circle dance going on, Tehrani style I was told by someone close to me who is in the know. Tehrani style is sort of a dance game where all the dancers stand in a circle, shaking their hips to the devil's rhythm while clapping hands or snapping fingers. Throughout the dance, one person is thrust into the center of the circle and makes the rounds while shimmying and shaking to all those in the outer circle until that center person makes a full round, then they choose someone else to take their place. D'Rose hopped right in there like a regular homie who'd never left home.

There was a US tent. The theme was 1968. Peace symbols and half-ass sketches of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King hung on the tent walls. I had to ask--"What's the point?" Nobody really had an answer. They did have free Kool Aid, and no, it wasn't electric.

Look folks, people, my age, my ilk--1968? Give it a rest will you?