27 December, 2010

The Only Laws In A Small Town That Really Mean Anything


Above all, make no waves
and make no enemies
unless you share the same ones
as everyone else.


Go to church, even if
you don't believe in it.
Otherwise people will
remember this and will
assume everything else.


Don't drink too early
or stay out too late.
And if you drink at home
buy your booze one town over
where no one knows
what you look like.


If you live in a trailer
people will assume
you're lazy, on drugs,
or a whore.


There are two kinds
of dirty: work dirty
and lazy dirty. Know
which one you are
and act accordingly.


If you vote,
only tell everyone
who you vote for
if you vote with the
majority. Otherwise,
you'll be taken for a fool.
Or worse, a Democrat.


Be sure to look the part
people have decided you
play, regardless of
how bad the casting may be.


Learn how to talk about NASCAR
and how to grow a garden.


Avoid sarcasm, since
no one will know
that's what it is anyway.


What people say about you
after you're dead
is far more important
than the fact
that you were a bastard
while you were alive.

You know you're redeemed
when they put your name
on a cement bench
in front of the courthouse.

26 December, 2010

Excerpt from THE MUCKRAKER'S CHRONICLE: The Flying Man From Pin Hook

The Flying Man From Pin Hook

By JJ Rafferty for The Arliss Star Advocate

Pin Hook – Wallace Gimley has carried the same dream with him since the age of five: he wants to fly. He says he was inspired by comic books and old film clips of inventors trying to test flying contraptions.

“Hawk Man was always my favorite,” Gimley told me as we sat together in his barn that he turned into a make shift study, design, and building space. “I read the comics first. Superman could fly, of course, but that was different. He flew because he was Superman. But Hawk Man, he had wings. Actual wings.”

It's not difficult to see that Gimley takes his passion seriously. The proof hangs from the rafters and are set around on tables; drawings and scraps of paper with scribbles and calculations and sketches cover nearly ever inch of the barn that once held animals back when he was growing up on the farm set far back on Pemblebrook Road. The only thing left of the tractor and the cows, horses, and pigs is that lingering odor of straw, old manure, and rust. Since inheriting the farm after the death of his mother after a long battle with cancer five year ago, Wallace Gimley has turned it from a working farm with 50 acres of good crop land to a design and manufacturing facility focused on the production of a single product – a contraption that will enable him to fly. Not an airplane, which he says puts too much between him and the air, and not even a glider, which he calls “cheating.” No. Wallace Gimley intends to build something that, in conjunction with his own body, will enable him to fly on his own power.

“I call it my own private Menlo Park,” he joked, showing me around. The allusion is intentional. Gimley says that Thomas Edition is one of his heroes and his primary inspiration. “Everyone thought he was nuts, too,” says the self-proclaimed inventor. “He went around talking about this thing called electricity and how people didn't need to light candles all the time just to see. He envisioned entire towns lit up in the night with these strange filaments. And look what happened! And just think,” he paused to light a home-made corn-cob pipe. “Just think about what the world would be like if Edison had listened to all those yahoos and forgot about electric lights.”

He points out several designs to me – all of them, failures. But he says with each failure he learned something new, something that he was able to fix in the next design. His early designs took him less than 6 months to design and build, starting from the age of 10. Now however, he says he takes more time to plan things out. He may spend as much as a year on design, and that much time on small scale testing. He throws out terms like lift, aerodynamic, wing span, center of gravity. That's the secret of his next design, he says. Center of gravity. He wouldn't go into details but said, “That's the mistake they all made. Even the Wright Brothers. “They all understood what Newton said about gravity. But they didn't move beyond the apple falling from the tree.”

And if you're thinking that Wallace Gimley went to school and studied aerodynamics, wing design, or physics, you're wrong. In fact, Wallace Gimley dropped out when he was 14 years old. “I wasn't learning anything.” But he points out that there's a difference between schooled and educated. His parents, hoping to encourage him to put himself back in school, made him work everyday on the farm; and he says that even though they were trying to manipulate him into giving up on his dreams, he's thankful for every day of hard work. Without it, his body might've gone soft... which would have ultimately made his dream impossible. “It's as much about the man as it is the contraption,” he said, smiling.

Gimley educated himself by reading. He read everything he could get his hands on, even when he was exhausted from work. He read history and science and math. He inhaled books about inventors and about flying. When his grandparents died, he inherited their collection of National Geographic Magazine, going back nearly 40 years, a complete collection fo Encyclopedia Britannia, and a four volume American Heritage Dictionary, including a Thesaurus. He claims to have read them all several times over, except for the Thesaurus, which he says is only useful “when a person wants to sound smart instead of be smart.”

So how does a man with an 8th grade education support himself enough to be able to focus on his dream of flying? He sold all the animals except for a milk cow, and he leases out the crop land to one of his neighbors. He grows a garden and hunts when it's in-season. He also sometimes builds things or repairs things for his neighbors; he's as handy at fixing a tractor as he is sewing a stitch. Most of the money he makes goes into building his contraptions, and what's left is enough for him to get by on.

“I don't need all kinds of nice stuff,” he says. “But I do need to fly.”

He's made six attempts over the years; the contraptions – or the remains of them – hang high from the rafters of his barn. Gimley says he's broken his collar bone twice, his left arm once, sprained both knees and gotten five concussions. But he has no intention of quitting, even if his neighbors, who have tolerated his … eccentricities … for years would prefer that he live quietly and farm his land much in the way his father and mother did. Gimley says it's not the contraptions that bother them so much, but the occasional explosions and “evidence of experimentation.” But he insists he's a good neighbor in spite of his oddities. He also insists that each and every one of them will change their tune after he tests his seventh contraption. That one, he claims, is the one that will fly. And when it does, they'll all brag about being his neighbor rather than commiserate about it.

Gimley leads me to a the back corner stall in the barn; there's a large object there, covered with a sheet. He won't show me what's under the sheet. “That's the contraption,” he says with a smile. “That's the one that'll fly.” He plans to test it as soon as the weather is warmer, maybe as around early summer. Until then, he tinkers and tests and makes his calculation and prepares to fly.


22 December, 2010

Untitled Lines / Post Solstice

Winter breeds patience out of desperation.
There is no instant gratification
When the snow plow buries you alive
And your only connection with the world
Comes in form of internet social networks
And high definition reality on ESPEN and the Travel Channel.
Realize (and remind yourself) this is a hermit's paradise;
All the one way talk you need
Without having to worry you're being judged
On how long it's been since you had a hair cut,
Or on whether you've taken a bath lately.
Snow outside made perfect by the thin layer of ice
Versus the dichotomous dirty snow left behind
By the shovel and the plow and the boot.
Look forward to Christmas, not for the gifts,
But because Solstice means
The days will get longer and the snow
Will gradually melt away, leaving behind
Something resembling Patience
Mingled with the hope
You have not yet dared to name
Or even appear to recognize.

21 December, 2010

Taking Out the Garbage The Morning After a Snow Storm

Up before the sun –
eyes pop open thanks to internal alarm clock
and the fear that the garbage men dug them-
-selves out last night. Pull on yesterday's
dirty clothes and go about bundling my-
-self up against the December winter outside.
Walk out onto the enclosed porch; the cooler air
pulls me out of my stupor as I
pull on my snow boots and turn on
the outside light so I can see what I have
to look forward to. Don't look up
I tell myself til it's done.
Grab the shovel.
Get to work.

                          It's me, a cheap shovel,
and the memory of a warm bed
against freshly packed snow
and a thin layer of ice that crackles
when the shovel breaks the surface. Don't look up
I tell myself til it's done. Get to the end
of the walk, meet the pile of snow and ice and rock
left behind by the snow plow. They don't pile it
in front of my neighbors' houses this way.

Start from the top
and dig my way down
thinking about about my landlord's
lawn tractor plow attachment
and I wonder if he's awake yet. Don't look up
I tell myself. Not til it's done. Slice through the pile
and step out onto the cleared street.
Snow reaches my thighs and I
can only revel so long in my victory
before I glance left
at the driveway.

                           The snow plow
didn't disappoint. Dig my way down,
through compacted snow and ice and gravel
hoping the shovel doesn't break – until
there's a space big enough to push through
and attack the thinner layer of pristine snow and ice
leading to the garage door. It breaks easy and I
move in a rectangle pattern
because it makes me feel like
it's disappearing faster, so that I
can feel like I'm winning
in spite of the forecast I'm
pushing out of my mind that calls
for more snow the day after tomorrow.
Don't look up, I tell myself
til it's done.

                      One last giant pile
tall as my waist and that
only so she can get the car out
when she leaves for work
in a few hours. Think about
the spaghetti dinner she cooked last night,
how it was heavy and warm in my belly
even though my hands and feet were cold
in spite of the heat. Dig my way down and
make my way through. Check my work
and allow myself a futile sense
of accomplishment.

                                Perch the garbage
atop the pile of snow. I know
the garbage men will throw
the recycling bin in the middle of the yard
to make me trudge through the snow
to retrieve it. Try not to think about it,
I tell myself.

                    Go back inside.
My hands and feet are warm. Strip
off cold sweaty clothes like I learned
from T.J. down in New Orleans
who warned me that a damp t-shirt
would kill me whether I was sleeping
on a park bench or soft bed.
That's how the elements finally kill you,
he said. They wait until you get sloppy.

17 December, 2010


 “Do you really want to piss off the only person in town that still likes you?”

Maude has a way getting straight to the point. “Parton doesn't like me. I'm not enough of a bigot.”

“ENOUGH of a bigot?”

“You know what I mean. He's a moron.”

“I'm not talking about him,” she said. Her voice was tired. She was almost always tired when she came home from work. When we first moved to Mount Arliss, I would try to have supper on the table when she came home. But it became impossible to know what time she'd be there; sometimes she worked late if she had a lot of ticket sales, or if she was working on a a new pamphlet or poster or some other marketing tool. Sometimes she said to hell with it all and came home early. But it was impossible to tell exactly what she had planned and she never called to say she was on the way home or to say hello. I'd call her sometimes, just to see how her day was going. If it was going good, she was too busy to talk. If it was going bad, she was in too lousy a mood to talk. We both have cell phones, yet I never seem to be able to get a hold of her; granted, cell phone reception in Mount Arliss isn't the greatest. But if she wants to find me and she can't, I end up hearing about it later.

She was tired because she'd had another in a string of bad days. There was a time when I would try to get her to talk about her bed day. Her strategy for dealing with bad days was different from mine; she would simply not talk about it and hope that by ignoring it all, that all the bad feelings would simply vanish. It's a beautiful system in idealized form; something out of the 1950's image of the prosperous American. Smiling wife serves dinner in a spotless, perfectly ironed dress. Husband smiles and shovels food in his mouth, content that he's done his bit for god, country, and family that day. Bad feelings? Depression? Anger? Push it away. Bad feelings are the enemy. They're communists. They're islamofascist terrorists. Ignore them and they'll go away. Then no one has to listen to anyone else's bullshit and everybody can be happy. Happy happy joy joy. The problem with her method was that outside of the idealized form, it doesn't work. The human psyche isn't built to hold in an infinite amount of negativity. When it reaches the fill point, rather than expand to take on the extra load, all that badness and negativity spills over into the body, becomes aches, pains, sickness. High blood pressure. Diabetes.

My strategy is less elegant. I simply howl at the universe until I feel better. This tends to annoy other people, but since they're generally part of the reason I'm howling, I figure they might as well take on their share.
Maude never says so, but from the way she acts, she thinks my approach is the more selfish of the two. She's probably not wrong.

“Well who ARE you talking about?”

She sighed and looked at me with a weary expression. Thick as a brick me, I finally got who she was talking about. I didn't answer and opted to pour myself another drink instead.

“Why do you have to do that?”


She pointed at my glass of scotch. “That. You're drinking more than you used to.”

“Not really. I pace myself better than I used to. I've slowed down, comparatively.”

“Compared to what? It was one thing when you sat around drinking beer...”

And, I thought, you didn't like that either.

“...but now you sit around drinking whiskey...”

“It's not whiskey,” I said. “It's scotch.”

She rolled her eyes. “It's the same thing.”

“Not really.” Maude didn't like it when I drank whiskey. She always said it turned me into a different person. I never really thought it did anything but make me more honest... temporarily removed the filter in my head that kept the more acerbic parts of my personality at bay. There was a time when I was horribly concerned about the little green demon in my brain. The one that scrapes and claws at me and wants me to simply be, without all the hang ups of worrying about anyone else. I sued to try and keep it under control because of a similar statement I heard once from my ex-wife. She used to say that when ever I lost my temper I became a different person. She said I even looked different. I never knew how to take it, and I wasn't absolutely sure that she wasn't just trying to manipulate me into feeling guilty; that was some she did often and was very proficient at. That was before I learned that guilt, and the heaping of it upon the self and others is all based on obligation and expectation. A husband, according to my ex-wife, was supposed to fulfill certain expectations, play a certain role. And I had certain expectations of myself too – higher ones than I was capable of, I eventually came to realize. That was when her manipulations stopped working, and it not long after that I left and we divorced.   

One of the wonderful things about Maude is that she doesn't try to manipulate me. She's far too direct for that, which makes her – as far as I can tell – a rarity among womankind. Most women manipulate the men they “love” because maybe there was a time when that was the only real social power they had. Like it a kind of defense mechanism against the patriarchy. Most women not only manipulate their men, they try and manipulate other women, too. It's about status, position. Men who pick up on this trick and adapt it to their own ends become politicians, local busybodies, church officers. But Maude, god love her, doesn't do that, and she hates it in other women. The impact of this is that it makes her more direct, more honest. And while I take this as a good thing, a rare thing to be cherished, there are times when her directness borders on something else.

When we first got together, I was a drinker. I've been a drinker for many years. Back then, she drank too. As a matter of fact, she could drink me under the table. But she tapered off and eventually quit drinking. I didn't.
“It IS the same thing.”

“Okay,” I conceded. “It's similar. But it's different, too. It's about the age and the fermenting time...”

“Don't change the subject.”

“Fine.” She knew me too well to be baffled by bullshit.

“It's not good to sit around and drink the way you do.”

“Some people eat chocolate. Some people drink.”

“Don't try and be cute.” She paused. “You're a drunk. You know that, right?”


“When was the last day that you didn't have a drink?”

I shrugged. Probably a truly miserable day.

“Do you think it's healthy?”

“I think it's healthier for me to drink than it is for other people.”

“Oh please...” she snorted. “Because YOU'RE so different?”

“Everyone's different,” I said.

“I don't like who you become when you drink.”

“Who am I when I drink?”

“You're just... different. That's all.”

I didn't answer.

“Sometimes I think you want me to end up sitting next you in a hospital, watching you die. Is that what you want?”

It wasn't. I'd seen people die from drink. Fucking horrible way to die. Besides the pain of it, the worst thing about dying is that people don't really care about you when you're dying. You're liver's cashed, your kidneys are failing, your body is swelling like an overfilled water balloon because you can't get rid of toxins anymore. If you're in a hospital, they end up jacking you up on morphine until your body finally wears out; this isn't mercy as much as a way to quiet the moaning and groaning. It makes the doctors' and nurses' lives easier. There's no mercy in the world for people who drink themselves to death, just like there's no mercy for junkies or the homeless or people who eat too much. No mercy. That goes back to obligation, too. It's generally agreed upon that the good, the upright, the useful, they live in a certain way and in a certain manner. They work. They save money. They pay taxes. They aspire to upward mobility. They live in nice neighborhoods and lease new cars every two years. And when you step off the worn-out path into indulgence, intoxication, or living in a way that most people probably would if they had the balls, the price you pay, among others, is the absence of mercy.

Maude wasn't merciless. On the contrary, she probably had too much mercy. But I was starting to realize that maybe I was wearing her down; that didn't surprise me as much as that it had taken this long for her to get to that point. But it wasn't just the drinking. It was that she was really the only person in town that I ever talked to, in spite of the fact that we'd been living there for a year. I never made friends easily. Not like her. People were just drawn to her, her energy, her enthusiasm for things she cared about. Part of the reason she was always so exhausted was that she always put everything she had into whatever she was working on. She was like that with every job she'd had since she and I had been together. Maude didn't know how to be any other way, even though her work ethic had been taken advantage of time and time again. She gave until there was nothing left, and then she would simply implode. I'd never known a person who had been hollowed out by the world so many times and still went back at it in the exact same way.

“That's not going to happen,” I said.

“How do you know?”

“Because I just do.”

She shook her head again gave up. But I knew we'd have the same conversation again, sometime soon.

“I love you,” I said.

“Do you?”

“You know I do.”

“Do I?”

“Yes, goddamn it, you do.”

She stood up, patted me on the head, grabbed her pack of cigarettes that were sitting on the end table next to my chair, and lit a cigarette. Then she asked what my thoughts were on dinner.  

14 December, 2010

The Bowling Alley Kaffeeklatsch Broadside

The Bowling Alley Kaffeeklatsch Broadside

Essay: Intractable, Part 1

I grew out of a narrow tradition; as a writer, my education began with The Great Books on the dusty top shelf of the reference section in the library. I read Descartes, Spinoza, Aristotle, Plato. But that was later, when I was in high school. The first book of any literary consequence I ever read was George Orwell's 1984. I was ten. The magnetic weight of that book struck me, even though I didn't understand it thoroughly until I had read it many more times. And even though I didn't understand it all that well, I did begin to understand one thing: I began to understand that if I was going to write – which, by that time, I had already begun – that my goal was to write something that had that same kind of magnetic weight.

Naturally, I had no idea what an impossible standard it was that I set for myself. I had no idea that most writers are NOT artists and that by deciding that I WOULD BE an artist was more or less assigning myself to more trial, misery, glory, pain, and epiphany than anybody would choose if they had any sense.

If Orwell was the book that made me want to be an artist, then it was James Thurber's story, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, that made me an English major. He's a writer that's generally ignored by both the academics and the outsiders; academics ignore Thurber because he wrote primarily to entertain, sometimes to poke fun, but never to tear down the upper middle class readership of the then young and frenetic New Yorker. He was no Sinclair Lewis. Outsiders ignore him because the New Yorker has become everything that's wrong with contemporary American writing and the intelligentsia; it's insipid, snobbish, lacking in balls or editorial integrity, and is completely isolated from a large segment of writing in America, and has been since Steinbeck. When I read Thurber now, I see him as one in a lineage of American writers that began with Mark Twain; like Mark Twain, Thurber is often pigeon-holed based on his early work. But that's not the only thing they have in common. Twain and Thurber were successful as artists because they showed a clear sense of the absurd. Thurber understood that Mitty, in his day dreaming, had more to do with what America was becoming than the wide-shouldered, straight-backed version that played out in the movies and popular literature. America was, in Thurber's time, a land of desperate, spineless dreamers. And in that realization, there is brilliance that still shines even though we have changed from desperate dreamers to just plain desperate.

But I loved books, and I was developing a love for literature; so I did what seemed to make sense. I threw myself into academia, into the canon. Some of them I loved; most of them I didn't. A few of those have warmed up to me over the years... not because I've developed a greater understanding of their place in the canon but because I'm hitting an age where their words speak to me instead of at me. Robert Frost is one. Dickens is another... though I limit myself to Hard Times and The Old Curiosity Shop. Whitman spoke to me at an early age; but then so did Chaucer and Milton. Milton is one I have always appreciated because his humane treatment of the devil in Paradise Lost remains a literary achievement that few have come close to. I don't agree with his intent or his final statement on the matter of humanity, the devil, and what it all means; but he was a Puritan's Puritan. He put protest in Protestant. So I overlook my glaring disagreements because … well... he was kind of an asshole. And even when I disagree with other assholes – because I have often been accused of being one myself – I at least like them. Just a little bit.

But even though I loved academia, I was struck with how dogmatic it could be. All institutions are dogmatic, whether they're academic, religious, or political. So I sought out other voices: Kerouac, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, and Corso. On The Road and Coney Island of the Mind stick out to me as significant influences on my development. Development, not style. I discovered literary rebellion. And it was wonderful. But to really appreciate and understand it, I had to move outside of academia; which began a long series of bouncing from job to job, in and out of academia. Getting divorced had something to do with that, as well. But I see that less a cause and more part of the effect of how I was developing, what I was becoming. 

10 December, 2010

Eat, Drink, Write, Piss on Your Neighbor's Lawn: A Couple of Hours with Kap and Mick

Starting at 1pm Central Time, Kap (That's Noah Kaplowitz) will stop by the Dead Machine (that'swww.deadmachinefictions.com) where I'll be posting some of his work. We're going to be talking about writing, drinking, parenthood, and other forms of insanity. 

Then, we're going to change blog hop over to www.iamkap.net where he's going to post the latest bit from my novel in progress The Muckraker's Chronicle. At that point, who the hell knows what we're going to be talking about. We may be singing Irish and Russian fight songs by then.

Stop by, get in the conversation, read our stuff. Prove your old high school guidance counselor wrong... or just prove mine wrong. 


"Whenever someone throws the word “entitlement” at you, all that means is you're interrupting their trek towards mediocrity."  

                                                                --JJ Rafferty

"Do you really want to piss off the only person in town that still likes you?"

                                                     -- Maude Rafferty


05 December, 2010

Quote of the day from THE MUCKRAKER'S CHRONICLE

"It's not that I don't believe in the possibility of Grace. I'm skeptical enough to accept the possibility that God, like Bigfoot and mermaids,does exist. But until a beautiful bare-breasted woman with a giant fish tail swims up to me and says hello, I'm holding out for more evidence other than your say so."  

                           --JJ Rafferty

[Note: I'm changing the title of the novel currently in progress from In Season to The Muckraker's Chronicle.]


03 December, 2010

James Bond and The 9

My trip to the bar the day before had been a waste of time; but that didn't mean I didn't have to listen to the recording, anyway.

I got in the habit of carrying a digital recorder when they got to be cheaper than the mini tape recorder I had relied on in Cincinnati. It was just easier to record meetings and interviews and make little notes to myself along the way. No missed quotes, nothing taken out of context, nothing dependent on my sometimes inaccurate memory. When I forage, I use a small microphone clipped to my shirt and I walk around recording everything. Hours and hours of everything. After all, it's better to be over zealous than under prepared. Most of the time, people didn't even notice the microphone, though I made no attempt to hide it except to run the cord inside my shirt to avoid it getting caught on things. When they did I told them I had just gotten back from a meeting and that it wasn't even on. Maude warns me time and time again that I was going to get into trouble, recording people without their consent. “Who do you think you are?” she asks me. “James Bond?”

You know a woman loves you when she knows how to make concern sound like a caustic remark on your boyish fascinations.

I've started to think of what I do less as journalism and more like cultural anthropology. The things I write about remind me more of anthropological research, like this study I read in college about the Trobrianders in Papua New Guinea. Napoleon Chagnon writes up this study of a jungle tribal culture, focusing on the things they do every day. How they live, how they get food, what they believe in, how they die. Most of these studies make for boring reading – not that they're not important or whatever. But they can get dry. Clinical. Too much science and too little art. But Not Chagnon. There's this one part of his narrative where he describes when the tribe invited him to take part in one of their rituals: ingesting a hallucinogenic drug. There were only two problems. The first problem was that this drug is made from a plant, turned into a thick green paste, and ingested by having someone else blow it up your nose through a long bamboo tube. The other problem was that Chagnon had been getting into tangles with a Christian missionary that was trying to convert the heathen Yanomamo by drawing crayon pictures of dark skinned people falling into a fiery pit. Naturally, this approach pissed Chagnon off no end, as the other representative white man who was constantly having to explain to the natives that they were not, in fact, really going to fall into a fiery pit if their women didn't start wearing western style clothes. I mean, it's fucking ridiculous, no? Why is it that missionaries end up focusing on nudity and the English language instead of the state of people's souls? So while the anthropologist was in the midst of a massive sticky green hallucinogenic fueled trip, the missionary showed up with more clothes and English Bibles and crayola pictures of dark skinned people falling into fire. The missionary was, of course, horrified to see the only other white man in the jungle going native. But the anthropologist, in his narrative, goes into great description of the sensation of raising the middle finger of his right hand and flipping the missionary off.

That's where art meets science. But that's not really what I do, either. I haven't yet discovered the art in covering a room full of grown men and women who behave with less maturity than my teenage daughter.

I'm not young enough to assume I know everything and not old enough to realize that there's nothing worth knowing; there's so much I don't understand. I don't understand how Cincinnati sports teams defeat themselves in spite of colossal talent; I don't understand how George W. Bush won two elections; I don't understand people that think Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin qualify as MILF. And when it comes down to it, I still don't understand people, or why I always feel like I'm living in a fish bowl. There's this layer of something between me and other people, and it's always been this way. Maude tells me I just need to relax and show people that I'm really a nice guy. But she herself is proof that nice people get eaten alive, bit by bit. Her resilience is one of the best things about her – but still. She spends a lot time being let down by people rather than accepting the fact that they can't live up to a standard they don't understand.

For my part, I want to understand them. Other people. I don't like them very much most of the time, and for no particular reason. They just rub me the wrong way. All the time. Maude tells me I'm disgruntled. Hell yes. Maybe if I were more pragmatic, I'd be less annoyed. But think of myself as a hold out – a bitter idealist. And that means, in order to hate more effectively, I need to understand why. So I record people without them knowing about it.

I arrived at Moose Head in plenty of time for the daily lunch session of the Mount Arliss 9. Chris Wokowski, the County Recorder and ninth member, ate his lunch there every day with eight other people whose thoughts, beliefs opinions more or less represented the heart and soul of the town. Buck Harrington was a farmer whose family owned a fair piece of the county and what his family didn't own they leased and worked. Darnell Smith worked for the Highway Department. Gary Trudell owned the local grocery store. Don Parton was a farmer, one of the few who didn't lease his land to Harrington (though it was something Harrington himself hoped would happen one of these days). George was a retired mill worker. Chuck Lauserman was a part time policeman and full-time asshole who's wife worked in the county courthouse. Tom Pruitt was the local head stone mason, and Phillip Stauggersaun made his money selling most of the buildings on Main Street when real estate was good and now spent his time hunting and playing with his investment portfolio. It would be unfair to say that Wokowski owed his election to the other eight; but it would be closer to a statement of fact. Other than Harrington and Stauggersaun, who are small town rich and county affluent enough to throw some patronage Wokowski's way, the rest of the 9 are simply situated about town so that their influence can be felt if not seen. Parton is a member of the NRA and President of the area chapter of the John Birch Society; Smith was Deacon and Treasurer of the Lutheran Church. George is tight with the WFW and the Carpenter's Union, and Lauserman, is well respected in the FOP and a leading deacon at the Methodist church. Pruitt doesn't do anything except cut head stones for cemeteries, but he has been known to take a reduced rate for the grave headstones of beloved public figures.

And, of course, they were all born and raised in Mount Arliss – except Wokowski, who moved here when he was thirteen. But the others decided that it was close enough since he more or less agreed with anything they said.

When I arrived, Wokowski had just sat down and the rest of them were eating their lunches... daily specials all around. Coletta was working the bar. She's the owner's daughter.

“What'll it be today?”

“It's cold today,” I said. “Scotch.”
Coletta doesn't bat an eye when I show up at the bar at noon and ask for a scotch. I think I've been the only reason she's had to keep buying it. Mount Arliss is a Busch Light kind of town, with a few of the old guys who like Crown Royal and one or two who insists on gin. But mostly it's beer. I can feel the eyes of a few of the 9 boring holes in my back. Don Parton's in particular. He sniffed me out as an intelligent and reasonable person fairly early on … which of course means that he has no use for me. Coletta brought my scotch and picked up the money I set on the counter.

“So,” she asked, walking back towards the cash register. “What're you working on this week?”

“Same old stuff. What doya hear?”

“Not a thing.”

Coletta, like most of the stalwart residents of Arliss County, have an insatiable hunger for gossip and like to know the inside scoop of everything that goes on; and they will, on occasion, drop a tidbit that might turn into a little scratch. But most of them will do anything short of homicide to avoid having their name mentioned in the paper. Having your name in the paper – except for a thoughtful and loving obituary – is more embarrassing than being caught walking down Main Street with no pants. We exchanged a few more pleasantries and then she went back to the kitchen to check on Wokowski's lunch. The conversation behind me was pretty much the same old thing. The bad economy. Obamacare. Meaningless calls for another revolution. A rehash of Fox News updates.

“One of these days,” Parton intoned with a dramatic foreboding that I had become used to, “one of these days people are gonna wake up and see that people like US have been right all along.”

“Yep.” George shook his head in agreement.

“We got a goddamn socialist in the white house,” Parton went on, “we got pussies in Congress ...” he looked around to make sure Coletta was out of ear shot; he was, after all, a chivalrous moron. “we got illegals invading from across the border.”

“And they're taking AMERICAN jobs away from AMERICANS,” Darnell added.

“And they're all rapists and criminals and drug dealers,” Pruitt said.

“And what're we DOIN' about any of it?” Parton demanded.

“Not a damn thing,” Harrington answered.

“Nothing,” Lauserman said.

“You know it,” Stauggersaun echoed.

Wokowski just nodded in agreement and said nothing at all.

I downed my scotch and waited for Coletta to come back so I could have another. They weren't bitching about anything new.

“And what's worse,” Parton went on, “is that they come here and take job and they still don't want to better themselves. They live like goddamn cockroaches, they leach off the American tax payer ...”

“And then they whine and say their RIGHTS are being attacked when they're caught,” Wokowski chimed in.
Listening to the 9 talk about border policy is like sitting through bad karaoke. Nothing new, but still, you can't ignore them for all the passion they put into it. Coletta brought out Wokowski's plate, refilled the table's drinks; then she came back to the bar and refilled my glass with ice and scotch. We chat some more. The 9 are stuck on border policy and the impending doom that's being brought upon the country by the brown demons flooding over the border.

“And you know WHY they think they can come here and suck on America's Tit?” Harrington always has a way with words. Or so he likes to think.

“We should get a different opinion,” Parton proclaims, raising his hand. I knew what was coming because I felt his eyes, which had drifted from the back of my head to the plate in front of him,drift back and focus on the back of my head again like a rifle sight.