Wednesday, September 17, 2014

It Can't Happen To ME!

The prophesied Smirkin' Jerk

The virus, long underground, first became noticeable with savage Enron. Pensions built up into the hundreds of thousands were forcibly invested into the belly of the beast who'd taken over their company. Only a piddling few thousand remained in the aftermath. The money had vanished, gone with the wind, no recourse possible. End your golden years in the night watchman's cold, sucker.

But instead of outrage, the road map to funny money had been laid out for trusted tricksters. Swindle first, stash the cash second, play innocent later. Then live happily ever after. Gambling fever was on! How to get the suckers to part with their cash? Give everyone credit! Mortgage brokers get commissions they never have to return. Cha-ching! Prices rise making every mortgage look good, reselling them leveraged at 30 to 1 (meaning one dollar makes - or loses - thirty). Make your killing on the way up - someone else will be holding the bag on the way down!

The Great Recession - and don't kid yourself, it has not and will not end - compared to Enron is the same as an atom bomb to a firecracker. Now the victims numbered in the tens of millions, blindsided just like the Enron retirees. No recourse, feeble short-term lifelines, and ultimately left to drown. The voiceless were outraged, the voiced - not so much. In greed we must trust!

The lucky ones die. The unlucky ones
earn minimum wage at "The Gap"

Each day like Jews hauled off to concentration camps the slave class grows. Those outside the camps pass by in silent horror, never speaking a word lest they be next. No one wants to hear the stories of those buried alive inside; of how the social contract has been torn to shreds, of honesty returned with dishonesty; of a failed system without future. Fear shut the eyes, ears and mouths of the yet-to-be sacrificed which, in the end, guaranteed them to be sacrificed.

As proud and twisted as any Soviet gulag, the educated and degreed were shuffled into coal mines of mindless labor. Bolshevik billionaires laughed as fools still trusting the system languished in furnaces of doom. Slogans of ages long dead were trumpeted as if still relevant. Souls bought pennies-on-the-dollar shouted affirmation of the hopeless myth of prosperity promised. Dysfunctional children strained to claim happiness in retail rot, part-time prisons, and cages to be cleaned day after day until death. It was the worst of times - with the worst yet to come.


But what about Her, safe in her mountain mansion over the bay? Sure She had money (her husband's money anyway) but that's not why she had been spared. The money was merely a byproduct of Her superior morality. And sure, he was a banker - but an honest banker: that meant taking the bank's ill-gotten profits was OK. They lived deep inside the system yet were convinced they were above it. How wonderful to be blessed by both the gods on earth and in Heaven! For the longest while they'd refused to fully embrace their divinity but finally one horror story too many passed across the headlines, snapping their minds.

"God has spared us for the good we know we do. Praise be to God!"

"God", of course, translated to mean a monetary idol. This was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream: moral money; to safely watch as others are herded to their doom. One expresses sympathy and perhaps even a twinkling of satisfied outrage over the plight of the helpless - but then one takes a sip of fine California wine and all is well again. They believed themselves as Moses on the mountaintop, beloved, and in communion with God. Their praise was overflowing and insufferable, but like every soul who believes to have "figured it out" they were immediately in the wrong.

In the hidden connections that bind us to every living thing and across the universe - connections that can be known but not understood - in came to the couple's life that which they had wished, as unstoppable as a breached airplane depressurizing at 30,000 feet, for in their spiritual arrogance they had opened their lives as exactly that. At this point the bank president took hold of their fate right in their oh-so-scenic living room.

"From now on I want blow jobs - from the both of you. First from your bitch wife while you watch, Joe-boy, then by you as your wife slides your head back and forth on my lusty shaft. You can refuse, of course, but you'll be blacklisted in the industry and we'll sue for back bonuses, taking everything. You've seen us do it before - without saying a word, naturally. You were right in thinking we'd not fire you - but didn't you remember we own you? You want to play Jesus while serving we the greedy, that's fine. But you'll do it with a dick in your mouth."

Everything lost, trapped without recourse, dirty money drowning. What price the good life in a world more desolate by the day? This they must ask themselves - and having to face it as opposed to theorize about it put things in an entirely different lie. The idea of working as wage slaves to the end of their days seemed horrific beyond compare. That was completely out of the question to reside in a living death of perpetual agony. But should a Jew give a Nazi blow jobs to be saved from the death camps? This wasn't supposed to happen to us!

Even murder crossed their minds but they soon realized they faced a hydra, that always another would take the place of the evil head they killed. Where do you go? What do you do? Why doesn't somebody DO something! The world is insane and out of control. Has nobody eyes to see or ears to hear? It was if they'd been trapped in a soundproof glass booth, pounding unheard to be let out as the air vanished, seen by all who passed by but helped by none. Is this what it's like to be laid off? Does honest service count for nothing? Where is the final profit in that?

Yes, they can keep going to their thousand-dollar-a-donation charity balls, hobnobbing with the "elites", but only with cum on their faces. Or they could hide in their mansion, imagining the whispers of why they dare not share their faces; the world closing in from within. Or they could be cast into the American gulag, toiling at the mercy of a world they knew not to be trusted, the clamp of poverty squeezing them ever downward. Or like so many who entered their fifties who'd been cast out: suicide, future revoked.

Shattered, they first fell into grief, then anger, then despair, then in frustration tearing into one another - all the while the puppet-master bank president laughing at their predicament (which mirrored his own ill-fated life). Finally the fog cleared with eyes half-dead: "If we must live in hell it may as well be hell in luxury." This answer was known to those around them before it had been known to them. Among the evil overlords this process was known as "Education Time" - always announced with a raping grin.

And so began the "new abnormal", of attending events in cum-faced sheepishness, unable to stay away; to living with mockery behind their backs; to even their pathetic attempt to save face in claiming to be "clever enough" to survive well. Like Ramses of old, they took refuge in the material, to proclaim: "Look upon our wealth, ye Mighty, and despair." They devolved to despise the poor and less well-off for "not doing what it takes to succeed." They went to their graves covered in cum, guilt and shame; eulogized and praised effusively by their rapists; dirt covering the coffins in seeming contempt.


CODA: At the pearly gates she raged against her Maker. "You fucking bastard traitor! What did I ever do to deserve that? I tried to be honest my entire life. I objectively praised You whenever convenient and what do You do? Hang me out to dry with no fucking way out! Jesus damn Christ! You have to give people a chance - something. You can't have the whole world die on a cross. It's absolute insanity! It's beyond the pale! I can't help who I am. I can't live like a dog. You ask too much!"

God was busy playing "Call To Duty" (in God-mode) but still managed an answer. "I never expected you to live like a dog. That was never the plan. You are a delicate flower who needs to be carefully tended in a greenhouse. I understand that: I made you with great joy."

"Ok...well, then, what the fuck!!?? I felt compelled to live that dream, that I'd die otherwise." A sudden nagging started to disturb her.

"You remember that boy in college who dreamed of being a writer?"

Him she'd not forgotten a day in her life. The nagging got worse. "Yes, but he ended up a bum. He never could have provided for me. Sure, I wished more than anything to be with him but how could I? You can't just do what you want in life. You have to be practical. And besides, You just said You understood my practical needs."

"Yes, that boy descended into bitter unpaid blogging, never amounting to anything. But had you done what you wanted - had you been honest about what you wanted - by your side he'd have written a best seller making you rich beyond your dreams awash in moral money - many times over, actually, of the ill-gotten gains for which you did strive with such great pains. You were your own Judas, choosing the world over yourself - and in that there is no hope for anyone. Bitch."

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Nobu: To Live And Die In Edo Japan

[It was winter's last - and deepest - gasp in the thin mountains of eastern Japan. Nobu, hunted by the shogunate since last summer for refusing to commit seppuku, had reached the end of his run, living as a nightly noodle-maker. Come Spring he vowed to be a new man come what may. "What is life holding your breath?" For a time he took pleasure in the evasion, knowing the fury and consternation he caused among the ruling elite. That much amused him. But that faded as Nobu's focus turned to himself and his own life. He'd once asked himself, "Why die?" But time had come to ask, "Why live?"]

Days turned into a blur:

"Nobu! What are you doing? Have you deceived these rural villagers into thinking you're a simple noodle-maker! Ha! Who could believe such a thing? You cannot deny our time in Edo with your heady wit and drunken escapades. Come out into the open and be free like you used to be! I've missed you - no matter what sort of baka [fool] you may be!"

It was his old compatriot Kenbei speaking. Even in a dream Kenbei could make him smile and Nobu longed to rejoin the repartee of old. As much as he'd hated his samurai life it sorely vexed him to admit any pangs for its passing. Paradise he sought and paradise he'd find. 

But having to hide - and hide everything: his speech, his knowledge, his manners - defeated the purpose of escaping. It's not just about running from but running to something. For the longest time his inner voice pleaded with him on this point and at last Nobu agreed. "When Spring comes," he promised. "When Spring comes..."

Knowing this, feeling better about himself, opened a door within. And as always happens someone walked in: Oyone. He'd seen her before, noticed her, but not made up his mind. But that night - this night - it all changed. Walking on his way back to his crude dwelling, Nobu's head overflowed with thoughts of the intriguing Oyone. She had a sharpness he'd never suspected in a country girl. He'd been a stupid snob. His eyes twinkled in the moonlight and the first time in a long time light shined in his world.

"Does she feel it too?" The usual questions came up as with any beginning, altering the axis of the world and its perspective. The barren winter branches weren't dead, but simply biding their time till life rewnewd. This time, without stupid samurai armor to get in his way, love would be possible. It had been hell and then some getting here but Nobu looked down into the valley of love daring himself to enter.

Didn't take long before the sapling bloomed into a flower. The impossible questions of before ("How can I let anyone in my life when I'm wanted?") didn't seem as impregnable as before. A satisfactory answer had yet to enter his head (knowing anyone caught aiding him would die with him) but now he had hope. Just a few more steps...


Nobu no longer studied every stranger who entered the noodle shop. Traffic dribbled in as the first meltings began but Nobu's exploding heart could not be bothered. Who'd still be chasing him at this point anyway? This was a time for life! But suddenly the little voice spoke out again. "Oh shut up! I already listened to you once. How much more can I stand? I'm near exhaustion as it is! Whose side are you on?" But didn't it pay off before?

Angry with the interruption, he sat down by the road in the faint late afternoon sun. What was to break his heart this time?

That man!

No, no, he was fine, traveling to see his relatives. I haven't stopped all observations. Give me a break and let me return to my love song!

Of course he'd have a cover story. And he admitted he was from Edo.

He carried no swords and only a fool would admit he's from the very place I'd suspect most.

Unless he's a fool who hides in plain sight!

No, no, go away. This is too much! I can't be imagining everyone an assassin! Please let me live.

Suit yourself.

Nobu jumped up and started running for his secret river spot. To have everything snatched from him now - not NOW! "Just let me live! I haven't told her the full truth yet. She only knows I'm taken like never before." Nobu's sobering mind had a thought. "Yes, that's it! That's what's bugging me. Damn, life is hard! No room for mistakes."

Nobu had a gift for deduction. His mind automatically recorded anything "out of tune". He knew from long practice that a voice raised unnecessarily or an open hand showing nothing to hide when never questioned or any other act "out of the flow" could mean something. Sometimes something private, sometimes a plot. And that's where the Edo traveler had failed. He was good - damn good - and only by a perfect play could he be detected. Normally, a fugitive in love stood no chance.

It was the number of days he'd said he'd been on the road from Edo, the capital. Nobu listened to every conversation in the noodle shop even as he pretended not to. But this man took few chances, always in normal tones, nondescript. Still, the number was wrong. If the man had traveled these roads before, if he really was from the northern town he mentioned, the number would be lower. But if he'd been roaming the area searching for a runaway samurai, he'd lose track of his true distance from Edo.


What to do? What did he say? He said he was leaving the village. No time to waste to see his ailing father. Nobu checked both inns in town and sure enough he was gone. Knowing that should make him relax, it put him on guard. The 100 ryo bounty, the grinning, gloating shogunate displaying Nobu's head on a pole - yes, what a fool to think they had stopped so easily. With love on his doorstep, this enraged Nobu and he put all his wits into action.

The next couple of days nothing happened. "I may have made a mistake inquiring at the inns if he'd been spying on me. If so, I may never see him coming." Nobu kept to his same routine except for one: he put a dummy in his bed each night. With only one weapon had Nobu displayed proficient skill and that was with the knife. There in the dark with his steely eyes and knife raised he waited. If the assassin didn't show up soon he'd have to think of a more sustainable plan.

On the third night he came. The bastard was good, coming deep in the night, taking no chances. With the maddening doubts finally cleared away, Nobu's sweaty fingers prepared for the all-deciding throw. "Remember: not until you're sure!" The shadow passed his window in silence, at one with the surroundings. It almost seemed as if in a dream. In fact, the startled Nobu had not even noticed the throwing of the shurikens into his hut. But the assassin refused to immediately enter. Perhaps he suspected his target had not been a real body.

Nobu maintained discipline knowing curiosity would most likely win out and force the bounty hunter into the open. Then again, this guy was very good and may just slink off back into the night. Several tense moments passed. Then finally, a small shadow peeping through the window. "Not too soon!" Satisfied, the shadow made for the door - and that's where he made his fatal mistake. He stopped, framing himself for Nobu's knife instead of entering nonstop until he reached a place of darkness. With the first choking sounds, Nobu rushed over and finished the job. He'd never killed anyone before.


CODA: Nobody knew the name of the ragged stranger found dead on the mountaintop. Due diligence was done but found fruitless, the body burned in anonymity. This forever sealed the legend of Nobu. Speculation had him escaping to Korea or hiding in the southern islands to taking up with outlaws or even turning to farming. Speculation also had him dying in any of a dozen places. None suspected a fractured heart entombed in loneliness. The truth was never known and in a small but significant way, respect for the shogunate and samurai in general diminished permanently.

After the assassination attempt, Nobu ran as far away as possible. The reality of it had been too much, losing the nerve to ask Oyone to share his hunted life. She deserves better, he told himself. ("But shouldn't she make that decision?") Truth was, he feared to know her answer. Already on the brink of exhaustion and not daring to stop again, his body simply gave out. Time ran out. Perhaps Nobu had been ahead of his time, needing the freedom to come in the centuries ahead of which he'd envisioned, when life is honored and all the world bathed in light.

Of Lotteries Lost

Nature abhors a vacuum. That, in fact, is an understatement, for it is actually a law of Nature, as real as any of Newton's. And in this way each of is exposed. As a crime, exposure is sorely hated. Which entices you to greater anger: to hear your 17 year old daughter has been flashed by a middle-aged man or that she's been knocked up by her 17 year old boyfriend? With time and reason one will say the later, but most rage to the first with the honest initial blush. Of us this says much.

Many feel compelled to find the spotlight in the hunger for exposure (without using an open trench coat). To those (rare few) who choose to see, the lives of those who must be public are laid bare, aching for acceptance yet finding no comfort when falsely given. There are no shortcuts. Many are those who say they hold their nose while voting - but it is their own smell they wish to avoid. In the end, there's no place to hide.

Shawn was the inverse. For some, to walk down the street naked is life. For him, it is death. His intention is to remain dark with failings unseen. He sees a false profit in this. Just as politicians are exposed to be without principle in the light of day, Nature seeks out and finds those in the dark as well. Shawn has no intentions of engaging in public debate any more than he'd stroll nude in the park. And yet, he never realized life gives no quarter.

The plan was to outsmart the world, outsmart life and, ultimately, outsmart himself. Shawn needed only one tiny event for that to happen, to leave him untouchable in the universe, laughing at the fools around him. He needed to win the lottery. Such was his steadfast belief in that curing of his ills he'd anchored his life (and worth) around the possibility of this impossibility. Without understanding why, we instinctively know when someone is possessed by something, nature will never allow it to happen. Everyone knew in unspoken understanding of Shawn's futility but Shawn.

We tried explaining the math, of money better spent on food and shelter, but to Shawn lottery tickets were food for his soul, his eyes lighting up with each new chance. It's what he needed to be somebody and being somebody is "something everyone deserves. You'll never be able to convince me otherwise." In that sense, Shawn was very wise, and never found a soul - no matter how reviled - without worth. Maybe if he had followed that star he'd been a great humanitarian of some sort. One got that feeling.

But the stings of continual losses drove him to ragged despair. He cursed the God who gave him so much stalwart faith in Mankind yet denied him his proof. But it was his faith as much as his sins Shawn wished to hide. After he'd won, he'd come into the light. Before, never! On this point he was stubborn and irrationally ignorant, like a Congressman denying global warming. We all have policies whether we choose to debate them or not.

But Shawn refused to break. "Everybody is somebody," he'd repeat long after anyone claimed otherwise. So in a sense, he was making his way forward and it made even me start to wonder, "What if?" And I found it curious that my logical arguments against his winning sounded hollow and self-serving - as hollow and self-serving as Shawn's had been for it. Then, I think, it got to the point Shawn forgot why he even played; his true desire to empirically prove the worth of every soul - and the world's fatal treachery in its stewardship of such.

Reaching the limit, he withered. His house was an absolute mess, covered in old newspapers and lottery stubs and the general disorder of the despairing and hopeless. Why bother when you know you'll never come into the light? In the beginning, when he'd convinced himself winning was a "certainty", both Shawn and his house were kept pristine for the inevitable photographers and well-wishers. But as time passed, he physically eroded, his eyes looking passed the "fools" around him into nothingness. He'd been so sure!

The 6 lottery numbers had once come to Shawn in a dream. That only added fuel to the fire of his divine fate. In his mind, it all seemed to fit, making perfect sense. He knew he couldn't rationally defend it any more that any other dreamer. In a dreamless world, one can't help but sound delusional. So he kept this understanding to himself, hiding it away for his triumphant day of revelation celebration. Week after week he played the same six numbers as the years passed him by until his final open-mouthed state of confusion left him paralyzed, without will. And having reached this state of perfect freedom, he lost faith.

"There is no God! Not one who cares anyway. Earthlings are left to die and yet who weeps at the loss of a soul? But I ask you God: How can a soul be replaced when each and every one is precious and necessary? How can we ever be whole when we cast out when we should embrace? Where is the future? Where is salvation? I truly do not understand. I cannot help but think we are precious. It seems I am alone in this in all the universe."

That night was the most peaceful in years. It was the first time he'd skipped taking the time-worn trail down to the convenience store with the all too familiar clerk waiting on him, the sucker, he now knew. Shawn smiled in his bed imagining the clerk's fruitless waiting for him. No doubt he'd been mocked mercilessly the minute he walked out the door. "He was only pretending to share in my dream. Fucking traitor. He just wanted to make a sale." In that night, the faces of the day turned ugly in Shawn's sight. People were just shit after all, to wither and die in useless energy spent.

In the cold morning, a crushing hangover of shame almost drowned Shawn. His explanation: the fact he was finally realizing he'd been wasting his life. Nothing really means anything. "So this is why nobody fights for their rights. Why bother? There's no end game. God has it rigged and God always wins. What's our petty existence among the stars?" When his phone rang - unusual at that early hour - Shawn ripped it from the wall. "Fuckers! Can't fool me!" Then a short while later, incessant knocking at his apartment door. "I'm not letting those fuckers in." Besides, like Adam after biting the apple, he'd become aware of his nakedness and what his foul apartment state revealed.

In the ensuing silence, a few bitter tears. "How strange was all that? It was as if everyone else knew the same time I did what a fool I am. How can I face anyone? Everyone lives smarter than I." Morning passed to afternoon on this, the first day of the rest of his wasted life. Something was bugging him - bugging him hard! He wasn't the princess and the pea, he was the princess and the boulder. "But what the fuck could it be? Just shut the hell up! Only thing changed is I got smarter. Thank God, before it's too late."

Barring suicide, life must go on and so Shawn must get his weekly groceries. Hopefully no one would speak to him. But they did. And that's when Shawn's raging instincts were finally understood: when he'd given up, he'd won, all six numbers hitting on an 82 million dollar jackpot. In a blinding flash the horror came clear: he'd betrayed his faith on the final step of his journey.

Shawn never recovered from that, refusing to speak on even the smallest of matters and yet never speaking ill of another human being knowing he's the biggest fool of all.

"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness,
"how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything,
"except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot."

"I'd spent five hours that morning trying to write a song that was meaningful and good, and I finally gave up and lay down. Then 'Nowhere Man' came, words and music... the whole damn thing, as I lay down. So letting go is what the whole game is. You put your finger on it, it slips away, right? You know, you turn the lights on and the cockroaches run away. You can never grasp them."

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Trinity Skyline Trail (Dallas Does Good!) Photo Essay

Skyline Trail Arch

My old nemesis had me in a death grip, squeezing my brain in a merciless headlock with no end in sight. I was buckling, praying for life to end, bemoaning my purposeless existence. I ran out the door gasping for air. Lying on my back, eyes barely open in crushing misery, I saw the fall moon. I reached out my hand, hoping to hang on. Fly me to the moon.

I wondered, perhaps, of a poetic shot of my lunar friend paired with the nighttime Calatrava bridge. I'd channel my inner bbd, going for one great shot, taking my time instead of my usual carpet bombing from all angles. (One day I hope to make the trek to Colorado and steal learn all of bbd's tricks.) But as I crossed what passes for Dallas' signature bridge I noticed a row of intriguing blue lights to my right as if they were marking an airport runway.

Skyline Trail 3

As I passed I could see it was some sort of walkway enticing me to investigate. Boredom went right out the car window. As I crossed over I saw even more development. I remembered my forgotten post on "The Dallas Bridge To Nowhere" with its promise of one day becoming a destination point. I was hopeful but skeptical. Dallas dreams first and asks questions later - and adjusts after the fact according to funding. But this was up to private developers so who knew what might happen.

Sign 2 Before...

Grove Restaurant Arch 2
...And after

Turns out, quite a bit! I was pleasantly surprised to see this row of restaurants at the base of the bridge exit onto Singleton. I decided I must investigate further.


Grove Restaurants 2

Grove Letters 2

Perhaps it was the warm night air breathing contentment into me but I truly loved the feel of the place. At some point I hope to come back and spend some time here relaxing, when I have the proper frame of mind. But the glittering rows of blue lights were calling out to me to explore. With the building of the Calatrava bridge, this made the old 1930's era bridge expendable. Luckily, they decided to reclaim it as a walkway as opposed to destroying it - an absolutely perfect solution!

Skyline Trail 2

Skyline Trail

Skyline Trail 15

The Calatrava bridge at night naturally drew the eye to it. What a delightful backdrop. As a busy photographer I didn't stop to fully enjoy the view but its looming presence followed me everywhere I went. Of course I captured what I could.

Skyline Trail Arch 5

Skyline Trail Arch 2

Skyline Trail Arch 4

I thought they did a really great job of design and execution. "What a great place to hang out," I remember thinking. But what I found most gratifying was who I saw traversing and sitting and gazing upon the old bridge: muchos Latinos. I heard more Spanish than English as most of the visitors I saw were Hispanic which, in this case, meant local to the area. I mentioned before my affection for the La Bajada area directly adjacent to the bridge and I had to feel it was its residents I was seeing enjoying themselves and appreciating an evening stroll.

Skyline Trail Viewers

But the real question was how much farther had the new development gone down the street. And had any of the funky taquerias and whatnot been replaced. Inhabiting old warehouses was one thing, pushing out the local flavor another. I did find two more notable developments close by: a huge, monstrous place I dubbed "The beer barn" and a 50's style hot dog joint. At least the developers made good on no Appleby's or Chiles moving in which would have been horrific.

Grove Beer 2


But the question remains: Has this become a destination spot? Would someone come here specifically and not just when close by? I don't think it's to that point yet. I think it would require an entire district to become a poor man's Deep Ellum. Can it ever reach that point without steamrolling the local character? I doubt it. But it can certainly become something of high value and who knows, with some highly innovative thinking could become an historic hot spot, the old stomping grounds of Bonnie and Clyde and the few remaining roots of Dallas she has not yet managed to bury or bulldoze.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Long Winter Nights Of A Mad Samurai (Part 4)

[Nobu, the outlaw samurai who refused seppuku, had burrowed deep into the rural Japanese mountains, losing himself both physically and psychologically. But his success in hiding to live led to failure in living. Crossroads were approaching, pulling him in different directions. Which path leads to life? His error for margin was zero at this point. Nobu's stumbling mind stuttered in confusion.

(Nobu's story to this point can be read here:

Why Die, Samurai?
Diary Of A Mad Samurai
Descent Of A Mad Samurai (Part 3) )]


Day: Lost

Free at last, but alone. Is any man truly free alone? This I had not realized! If Kimiko were here now I'd feel a thousand times better. Instead, I am pitiful and do pitiful things leading a pitiful life. In the perverseness of my existence, I've made her presence a fear to me, for I do not ever wish her to see me thus.

I reversed my salvation into my enemy. Part of me cannot hate myself enough for that. I do verily believe if she were here with me this mountain of troubles would wash away and if I died I would die while living. But this...this is just living death. I can see no way before me without her. The nighttime cold aches deeper.

Now I see her face,
the old woman, abandoned,
the moon her only companion.

A wild inspiration flashed before Nobu.

What if I have it wrong? She does not hate me in burning vengeance. Perhaps to see me she would say, "Ah, look what has happened to you without me!"

Day of Doom:

Not many travelers came through this time of year. Those that did were hard driven to be making their way through the heavy snow and ice. No sightseers or idle journeyers. The noodle shop owner had warned Nobu of the strange creatures that entered on winter evenings; secretive men, grave men. Nobu could not explain he did not fear such men being one himself.

But the two that entered that night remained yet in Nobu's head as he later lay upon his straw mattress. His little voice was telling him something.

The pair entered the room quarreling - the lot of miserable souls. But these two had an edge. If one knew not the language and heard only their sound, a sinister tone one would hear. The argument was trivial in name if not in nature. Nobu felt something ugly welling up inside as he listened, greatly bothered as a crisis point headed for him direct as an angry arrow. Then Nobu exploded in consternation.

But he was not alone in his eruption. The short traveler had stabbed the other, his eyes blazing in satisfied hatred, in this singular moment feeling alive. He hesitated to pull the knife out even after death lest the moment end too soon. Nobu, too stunned to move, stood paralyzed and spellbound behind the counter. Only he and the killer were present in the smoky embered enclave.

Still in sync, the killer returned to animated life in the same instance as Nobu, fleeing out the door, melting into the darkness. Pursuit was pointless. But Nobu was the one who felt guilty.

It was his plan to live as an assassin after the winter melt. Those two men tonight, they were just itching for an excuse to kill. Like Nobu, they were part of the living dead. For them, life was death and death was life. That was the real reason Nobu wanted to assassinate: just to feel alive, same as the dreaded killer tonight. It's the only reason to become an assassin.

"Oh, dear Buddha, is this what I've become?"

Day of winter dark...

Oh, this is horrible! Horrible news! The worst possible! How black the sun? How stolen the night? How did this come to be? Treachory! Treachory of the highest order! In this I witness the ultimate betrayal. How can I give pardon? If only this had remained unknown to me, to have died in ignorance...

Love...there's only love...

This long cruel winter darkness, it leaves me too myself.

Day of winter grey...

"Oh, what I could be if I could be..."

No way forward, no way backward. Perhaps I'll just fade away.

"Hey, samurai!"

The words rang out like a command striking his face, yet Nobu's instinctive reaction to bolt upright remained mostly concealed. Still, the words shot through him like an arrow. He had no choice but to respond to the man spearing into him from the corner table.

"You accuse every noodle maker of being samurai?"

"No, just you!"

"And why is that?"

"Because you try to hide it."

Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! How to deflect? "Yes, I was shogun once but now they come to me for noodles."

"That is a waste! I can use a man like you!"

Too desperate to ignore any chance, Nobu turned to observe the man. His manner was focused and direct. This Nobu found refreshing and knew others would follow a man such as he. But this was an obvious brigand, using his charm as another weapon in his arsenal. Any priest in the land would envy his recruiting skills. The brigand moved to the counter to speak in conspiracy.

"I am Itikawa. I've been studying you. You can't tell me you see a future in this dump - or any like it. My men roam free, doing what we want, taking what we want. Stay here and you will suffocate!"

Sharp truths in those words, Nobu knew. Strong was the pull: no longer a loner and a liar, a safe haven. But ultimately, where would it lead?

"I cannot go with you, regardless of how you might reassure me. At the end I would find betrayal."

"Bakana! Never! Loyalty is our lifeblood. How else can our kind trust? You know this. I see it in your hunted eyes! Is it government officials you fear? Ha! We pay off half of them as one of our own. There is no authority higher than we who take."

Nobu was well aware of bands of outlaws who'd never come fully under control. Corrupt district inspectors found it easier to be bribed than to fight, peasants be damned. And these bandits felt no awe for the shogunate.

Nobu stirred the noodles in the great steaming pot, talking as if passing the time of day. "And yet, betrayal is certain." He looked up with a resigned smile. "You have no love in your life."

Itikawa reflexively opened his mouth to speak, then reconsidered. He'd never been foiled in a verbal fencing match before. How had he misread this man? A streak of honesty? Honest men are useless!

"Yes, you are right. I cannot use a man like you: a noodle maker dead to the world. I leave you to your unattended funeral!"

The brigand flipped a disgusted coin on the counter before quickly departing. But his final words wounded Nobu seriously, leaving pangs of shunted desire.

Nobu's mind raced as the shivering night air closed in on his helpless bed. 'Stay here and you will suffocate!' Damn him for saying that! 'I leave you to your unattended funeral!' Bastard! His arrows aimed true. I'm in deep, terrible trouble. Would the outlaw life be better? Men in trouble must stick together, I suppose. Oh, this is agony! No road leads home and the freezing night never ends...

Monday, September 01, 2014

Banks And Robbers: A Fairy Tale

Once there was a Banker who did well. "Wow, can you believe it? My bank is worth a billion dollars!" This was all the money in the land. For years he had been an honest and faithful steward of the people's money - this despite the fact he had not an honest heart. But reason kept him in check, knowing that a man with a reckless reputation would never be entrusted with the savings of a lifetime.

Much praise had been heaped upon the Banker, feted and honored by a grateful population - a population that equally congratulated itself on picking such a fine man for the job. Then, in the twinkling of an eye: revelation. Now that he had all the money, who could touch him? His heart, filled with a lifetime of seething revenge, vowed to show himself once and for all, never to hide in the shadows again. The Banker swore on his life: "You can't cheat an honest man."

Finally free to unleash his greed, he took the entire billion down to the casino and bet it all on one spin of the wheel - and won! This - thought everyone - was the greatest event ever to have happened in the land. Parties raged night and day on the newly formed wealth. "Only in our land can happen great things like this!" The laws of Nature had been defeated and outwitted at last: Mankind was to have its greed and eat too.

There was, however, a tiny minority of Malcontents who spoke out. These doomsdayers proclaimed that the very same gambling which "saved" them would also destroy them, insisting it must cease completely and immediately. Men in high places publicly scoffed at these words, providing reassurance (and cover) for a sheepish public. Even those who posed themselves as enemies of greed derided the Malcontents. "Who do they expect to win over with such arguments? These unrealistic radicals let the perfect be the enemy of the good."

Radicals like this won't ever get elected!

Ergo, the gambling now deemed "realistic" continued unabated for all intents and purposes.

But the math of the odds began to win out. First the billion won was lost ("Don't change course! We'll get the billion back if we have faith!" demanded the Optimists) and then another billion lost wiping out all the money in the land. Then a third billion lost putting them in hopeless debt and slavery. Money, though an illusion, had been the determiner between life and death in the land. Though no food was lost, many died from hunger. Though no houses were gone, many died from exposure. Though the same amount of work needed to be done, many died from its denial.

But they were a stubborn people, an insistent people, living in vain hope of recapturing the time of the initial profits. This (amazingly enough) allowed the Optimist party to remain in control even as devastation and ill will spread across the land. Voices once bribed cried out in anger at bribes lost - still willing to look the other way on misery if profits returned. The Banker still lived untouched, deemed too important to ever have harm come to him in the tenets of their most holy monetary religion. Who could stand before the beast?

"You are a monster, the lowest of the low! There's no living with you! The harshest punishments possible should be reserved for you and your ilk. You are a plague upon society and your wickedness jeopardizes the very foundations of civilization. Be ye trusted no more and never come in our midst again!"

The Banker laughed reading this as he made his way to his morning limousine ride. The words had been spoken by a jury to a bank robber who was trying to save his family who'd been thrown out into the street. The jury and the Banker both knew these words should have been directed towards the true villain who was the Banker - but were not! The jury felt they must show their moral outrage at somebody (not themselves) as the land disintegrated around them.

Posing politicians vowed to "restore the greatness lost in our great land!" Feeling their way of life threatened, those still on top of the hill locked arms in conviction. "All we are saying, is give greed a chance!" Protesters threw rocks at the tops of the hills but the rocks merely rolled back down on top of them. Hero-of-the-day voices proudly proclaimed "solutions" of how the land could yet still keep their greed and eat too. "If only someone would listen to me!" Curiously enough, the Malcontents were more hated and reviled than ever. As each day passed they were proven more and more true.

A suffering little boy asked his father: "Why is it everything is so bad now when it used to be so good?" "Our greedy ways caught up to us, son." The father had been blackballed as a whistleblower, proving the land was not as moral as it claimed. "But can't we just stop?" wondered the boy. "Yes, but that would leave everyone only with each other." The boy brightened up. "But that shouldn't be a problem if we're as good of people as we say we are!"

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Bucket List Trip Final Day: Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance

Pebble (2)

So this is it, the greatest car show on the planet; no holds barred, no compromises, only the crème de la crème. Yes, there are awards at the Pebble Beach Concours but don't be fooled, every car here is a world class winner. One does not enter a car into the concours, one is invited. Organizers strive for the ultimate in whatever categories are to be highlighted in a given year. And this was the year of Maserati!

After winding my way through a byzantine course in the Monterey peninsula (the "most circuitous path possible," grumbled one fellow in the parking lot), I started my hike to the fabled golf course heavy with anticipation. Word was to get there as early as possible. I heeded that word not only due to the crowd but because I knew my time was limited before the morning clouds burned off and my sunburn would be scorched by the sun. As the course unfolded before me, I began to understand what a dazzling backdrop this would be to display fine artwork in automobile form.

Pebble (5)

Pebble Beach (2)

Pebble, Maserati Racers

A short video of some of the sights and sounds:

The Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa race cars which dominated racing from 1957-60 were a featured class. As with anything involving the prancing horse, interest was high even early in the morn. Pebble was able to assemble an amazing number of these cars, of this too I was able to make a short video.

As always, unique specialty cars were in abundance. (Click on any photo for a complete description from the Pebble car guide)

1952 Jaguar XK120 Open Two Seater (2) 1952 Jaguar XK120 Open Two Seater

In 1949, a Jaguar XK120 achieved the title of the "World's Fastest Production Car" at 132.596 mph on a closed autoroute in Jabbeke, Belgium. When this record was broken by a Pegaso Z-102 in 1953, jaguar chairman William Lyons called Norman Dewis, Jaguar's chief test engineer, and asked what he was going to do about it [funny!]. Dewis and the Jaguar team headed back to Jabbeke in October with a car that had undergone a number of subtle modifications to its powertrain and aerodynamics, including a full under shield, a metal tonneau cover and streamlined headlamps. The most noticeable feature was a Perspex "bubble" canopy that was bolted down once Dewis was in the car. After inflating the nearly slick tires to 50 psi to reduce drag, Dewis smashed the Pegaso record with a top speed of 172.412 mph, verified by the Royal Automobile Club of Belgium, which brought the laurels back to Jaguar. The XK120 was once again the fastest car in the world.

1968 Ford GT40 Mark III Coupe (2) 1968 Ford GT40 Mark III Coupe

A total of 84 production versions of the racing GT40 were completed at Ford's Advanced Vehicle facility in Slough, England. J.W. Automotive Engineering took over the Slough facility and started manufacturing strictly road-going versions of the GT40 in 1966. The company was headed by John Weyer, the ex-GT40 team manager and Ford's GT40 distributor in England. His goal was to create a more roadworthy GT40 that Ford's racing versions. The GT40 Mark III was a GT40 for the street, just as the jaguar XKSS was a D-Type for the street. it has a detuned Cobra 289 V8 engine and a more civilized interior with slightly better ground clearance. Only seven were built, perhaps due to the price of $18,500 - more than a Ferrari or Maserati. This GT40 (chassis 1103) was first sold to Sir Max Aitken of London, then lent to the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu in England. Its current owner bought the car in 2011.


It could easily take a full day to absorb the craftsmanship and fine details of each and every car. Mass manufacturing has replaced custom coachbuilding leaving us with cars without the personality of days gone by. That makes their preservation all the more important. Even in its earliest days Rolls-Royce stood out among the rest in ways that can still be appreciated even today. The quality of work jumps out at you and "primitive" is a word that never crosses your mind. Here are some examples of this cross between fine engineering and fine art.

1908 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Barker Roi des Belges (3) 1908 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Barker Roi des Belges

This Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost (60922), one of the oldest in the world, is known as the "Silver Dawn". The car was first owned by Charles Angas of South Australia, and he and his family traveled extensively around Great Britain in the car between 1910 and 1912 before taking it to Australia. It wears a polished Roi des belges tourer body built by Barker, similar to the famous Rolls-Royce 40/50 that became known as the Silver Ghost (AX201). The Silver Dawn has just completed the 1,800 mile 2013 Centenary Alpine Trial in commemoration of the first Alpine Trial that proved the Silver Ghost's reliability. The Silver Dawn was built in 1908 and still features many original parts, including its chassis, engine, gearbox and front and rear axles. The engine even retains its original cast-iron pistons. The car was restored by Rolls-Royce Motor car's authorized dealer P&A Wood.

1915 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Alpine Eagle Portholme Torpedo (3) 1915 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Alpine Eagle Portholme Torpedo

In 1906, Rolls-Royce built four chassis to be shown at the Olympia Motor Show in London, including two examples of a new car initially designated the 40/50 HP. The model that gave the model its now much more well-known name was AX201 (with chassis 6BD), which was the twelfth 40/50 HP built. It was painted in aluminum paint with silver-plated fittings and was nicknamed the "Silver Ghost" to emphasize its ghost-like quietness. This Silver Ghost was privately entered in the prestigious 1912 Austrian Alpine Trial by its first owner, James Radley. Rolls-Royce prepared a factory team of four cars for the 1913 event, and the team gained six awards, including the Archduke Leopold Cup. Replicas of the victorious cars were put into production and sold officially as Continental models, but they were called Alpine Eagles by chief test driver Ernest Hives, and this is the name that they have kept ever since.

1931 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Barker Sedanca de Ville (3) 1931 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Barker Sedanca de Ville

Here's a quick video trip down the regal row of Rolls-Royce.

These cars alone are reason enough to come. But Maserati was the featured marque and for them I did come. Some truly superb models were on hand, plucked right out of books and deposited onto the lush lawns of Pebble Beach. Here I found both rare racing cars and rare GT street models. Let us sample a few below:

1928 Maserati Tipo 26B Monoposto 1928 Maserati Tipo 26B Monoposto

The Maserati Tipo 26B (chassis 33/2515) is considered to be one of the, and possibly the, oldest running Maseratis in the world. It first appeared as a works factory car in 1928 at the Targa Florio, driven by the Marquis Diego de Sterlich. For 1930 it returned as a factory team car fitted with a 2.5 liter engine. At the Grand prix of Rome, Luigi Archangeli scored his first major victory and at Monza finished second. in 1931 Rene Dreyfus drove the car although struggled with reliability in the first two races in Tunis and Tripoli.

Dreyfus claimed pole position for the Monaco grand Prix, setting fastest lap in qualifying. For the 1932 season Dreyfus was again at the wheel, coming in first in the Reale Premio di Roma and second at the Grand Prix de Marseille and Nimes. The car was used sparingly for the 1933 season and its final races were at Monaco and Montlhery. When war broke out in Europe, 2515 was hidden in an Algerian cave before reappearing in 1954 in Morocco. It was eventually stored in an aircraft hanger in France until discovered by an American collector. Television personality Alain de Cadanet owned it in the 1980s before its current owner acquired it in 2000.

1960 Maserati 5000 GT Touring 1960 Maserati 5000 GT Touring

The first Maserati 5000 GT, Tipo 103, was commissioned by the Shah of Iran in 1959. Maserati's chief engineer Giulio Alfieri designed it around the 3500 GT, with a strengthened chassis and suspension to cope with the massive power of the larger 5-liter engine developed from the 450S racing cars. It had a stylish Superleggera body by Touring and when completed, the Maserati 5000 GT was something very special indeed. With a top speed of over 175 mph and classic Italian styling, it quickly became the supercar of the day. Touring built this identical car on chassis 103.004 for South African businessman and owner of the Kyalami Circuit, Basil Read. There were 5000 GTs built for men such as Giovanni Agnelli, Briggs Cunningham, Stewart Granger, and Ferdinando Innocenti. After the first two were built by Touring, the following 32 were custom built by seven different Italian carrozzeria: Allemano, Frua, Monterosa, Pininfarina, Ghia, Michelotti and Bertone.

1957 Maserati 450S Spyder 1957 Maserati 450S Spyder

Maserati wanted a car that could match that of their nearby neighbors, Ferrari. Maserati's Tipo 54 450S was conceived in 1954 by the company's chief engineer, Alberto Bellentani. The tubular chassis was the work of Valerio Colotti. Chassis 4503 was completed in December 1956 and became one of the factory team cars for Maserati in 1957. At its first race at Sebring on March 23, 1957, it breezed to victory with Juan Manuel Fangio and jean Behra driving over the 12 hours. Behra then crashed this car in practice; the next appearance for the rebuilt car was at the Swedish grand prix 1000 km in August, 1957, driven by Stirling Moss and Harry Schell. In the last event of the season, the Caracas race in November 1957, this car was again driven by Moss. While in the lead, he collided with an AC Bristol, demolishing both cars. The car was brought back to Modena, rebuilt, and sold to a South American in 1958.

1956 Maserati A6G/54 Frua Coupe (2) 1956 Maserati A6G/54 Frua Coupe

Between 1954 and 1956 Maserati built 60 A6G/54 bare chassis. The 2-liter engine was a Colombo-designed twin-overhead-cam unit with a lightweight alloy block, using dual ignition and triple Weber carburetors. It had a wet sump lubrication system and depending on the equipment used, the motor developed between 120 and 150 bhp. Of this total 19 cars were bodied by Zagato, several by Allemano, and ten convertibles and seven coupes were bodied by Frua. This car is the only surviving A6G/54 Series II Frua coupe. Most Frua convertibles were Series III cars and this car looks similar to the convertible but with a hardtop.

1938 Maserati Tipo 8TCF Monoposto (Boyle Special) 1938 Maserati Tipo 8TCF Monoposto (Boyle Special)

This 8TCF (chassis 3032), also known as the Boyle Special, is famous for its many visits to the Indianapolis 500 but was originally a Maserati team car. In 1939 and 1940 it raced at Indianapolis, where it won both times driven by Wilber Shaw; the following years it was forced to retire. The car visited Indianapolis again in 1946 and 1947, finishing third and fourth. It raced again in 1949 but failed to finish. The 8-cylinder Testa Fissa or fixed-head engine was designed by Ernesto Maserati. Built for the new Grand Prix 3-liter supercharged Formula, it had the speed to take on the mighty Mercedes, Auto Unions and Alfa Romeos but sadly not the reliability. The 3-liter supercharged engine featured independent fuel feed to the two groups of four cylinders and twin Roots superchargers. The 8TCF debuted at the 1938 Tripoli Grand Prix and performed well. Three cars were completed for the 1938 racing season.

I imagined that Frua A6G coupe parked in front of a Mediterranean mansion in the evening, car and house complementing one another in exquisite harmony. And the dreamlike 5000 GT posing as the ultimate exotic of its time, branding the memories of anyone lucky enough to catch a glimpse. These ethereal beings are time machines to before the supercars of the seventies launched a new genre that has become mainstreamed. Like 1960's Bond, they lived in a world apart, trekking through this world on another plane.

Below is a video of a few of the Maseratis on display.

Famished at this point, I headed for the VIP tent where breakfast awaited. Afterwards I hiked back to my car to deposit my jacket and goodies I'd received. The sky was clearing at this point but I decided to give it a shot so I started back. My legs were really aching at this point. Along the way this woman adopted me, telling me about her connections to the event. She was smart, stylish and independent, the kind with whom I am sympatico. But being damaged (in more ways than one) I did not open up to her as I should have. By the time I got back the sun was out in full glory.

Pebble Beach (5)

By this time the crowd was really starting to fill in. I vied with the sun for a bit but lost miserably. Time for me to flee way too early. Picture taking time had certainly passed with the increased density but I would have enjoyed just mingling for a change and appreciating the cars. So except for one last coda, I bid adieu.

Click here to see the entire set of pictures along with associated car background.